U.S. acknowledges Israel's unlawful killings, excessive force, torture, discrimination against Palestinians

Summary of lengthy U.S. State Department report detailing human rights violations in Israel & occupied territories

Published April 18, 2016 11:59AM (EDT)

Israeli forces detain a Palestinian man at a protest in the occupied West Bank, near the town of Abu Dis on February 16, 2015  (Reuters/Ammar Awad)
Israeli forces detain a Palestinian man at a protest in the occupied West Bank, near the town of Abu Dis on February 16, 2015 (Reuters/Ammar Awad)

A new report by the U.S. State Department thoroughly details how the Israeli government discriminates against Palestinians in almost every aspect of society.

In its 2015 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, the U.S. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor acknowledges the "institutional and societal discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel."

The U.S. also confirms that Israeli government forces are responsible for unlawful killings and the use of excessive force and torture against Palestinians.

In the occupied territories, the State Department reports on Israel's "abuse of Palestinian detainees, including children, particularly during arrest and interrogation; austere and overcrowded detention facilities; improper security detention procedures; demolition and confiscation of Palestinian property; limitations on freedom of expression, assembly and association; and severe restrictions on Palestinians’ internal and external freedom of movement."

The report documents Israel's violent repression of Palestinian journalists and peaceful activists. It also addresses the hundreds of attacks on Palestinian civilians each year by extremist Israeli settlers, who are guaranteed almost complete impunity.

The 124-page report is divided into multiple parts, distinguishing Palestinian citizens of Israel from Palestinians living under illegal military control in the occupied territories.

It also separately documents violations of human rights by Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Yet, while U.S. government officials and media outlets frequently publicly speak about crimes committed by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, rarely are the Israeli government's own crimes so openly acknowledged.

The following is a detailed summary of the lengthy report's key findings, organized according to the type of human rights violation.


Killings and excessive force

The U.S. State Department report documents "excessive use of force by Israeli Security Forces in a number of their interactions with Palestinian civilians, and arbitrary arrest and associated torture and abuse, often with impunity by multiple actors in the region. Residents of the occupied territories had limited ability to hold governing authorities accountable for such abuses."

Citing NGO reports, it acknowledges that "impunity among Israeli security forces remained a problem, in part because mechanisms for investigating allegations were not effective," and that "authorities systematically disregarded abuse allegations."

In 2015, Israeli forces killed 149 Palestinians, roughly half (72) of whom were not attempting to attack Israelis.

Israeli forces killed 22 Palestinian civilians before Oct. 1, when the wave of violence increased. Another 127 Palestinian civilians were killed after Oct. 1. (The State Department does not mention a U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report that found that Palestinians were injured 14,000 times in 2015.)

Some of those killed or injured were children. The report cites an example in March 2015, in which an 11-year-old Palestinian boy was shot in the stomach during a weekly protest.

Acknowledging "human rights abuses related to actions by Israeli authorities," the report also notes that Israeli occupation forces regularly use live ammunition and rubber-coated steel bullets to clampdown on Palestinian protests, which have killed civilians.

"The continued frequent use of live ammunition [is] a serious concern," it states, adding that there "were numerous reports of [Israeli forces] killing Palestinians during riots, demonstrations, at checkpoints, and during routine operations; in some cases they did not pose a threat to life."

Israeli officials made no response to numerous reports by Israeli human rights organizations regarding Israeli soldiers using excessive force, the State Department confirms.

The report furthermore documents Israel's "disproportionate force and indiscriminate fire" in its summer 2014 war in Gaza, "resulting in unnecessary and excessive civilian casualties."

Citing human rights reports, the State Department recognizes the Israeli military's "heavy and unpredictable bombardments of civilian neighborhoods in a manner that failed to discriminate between legitimate targets and protected populations and caused widespread destruction of homes and civilian property."

The Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, often attacked medical teams and facilities and denied medical evacuations, the report notes.

Children paid a large toll in the war. 535 Palestinian children were killed by Israeli attacks in Gaza, nearly 68 percent of whom were 12 years old or younger, the report notes.

It also cites human rights organization that "found overwhelming and repeated evidence that Israeli forces committed grave violations against children amounting to war crimes," including "direct targeting of children by Israeli drone-fired missiles and attacks on schools."


Institutional discrimination

"Arab citizens, many of whom self-identify as Palestinian, faced institutional and societal discrimination" in Israel, the U.S. State Department acknowledges.

Israeli security forces and citizens racially profile Arab citizens and carry out revenge attacks against Arabs, the report notes. Numerous examples are cited, such as an October incident in which four Arabs in the Israeli town of Dimona were stabbed by an Israeli man who told police he did it because “all Arabs are terrorists.”

These attacks affect Arab citizens of all religions, not just Muslims. Citizens of the Druze religion, for example, have been attacked by Israelis for speaking Arabic.

Approximately 12.5 percent of Israeli land is owned by the NGO the Jewish National Fund, or JNF, which bans sale or lease of land to non-Jews. The NGO the Israel Land Fund, which calls it a "danger" for non-Jews to own land in Israel, buys Arab land and then sells it to Jewish immigrants.

More than 150,000 children in the country lack citizenship and thus full legal rights, not including children of refugees and migrants, the report notes. Among these are children of mixed marriages, especially those between Arab citizens of Israel and Palestinian residents of the occupied territories.

The report also details instances of Israeli businesses such as the Cafe Cafe chain of coffee shops which have refused to employ Arabs.

A 2014 survey cited found 42 percent of Israeli employers would prefer not to hire Arab men and 46 percent of respondents said they would prefer not to work with Arab men.

Arab citizens of Israel who work at municipal school systems as maintenance, janitorial and construction workers have also been told "to be absent from school premises when students were present, citing pressure from parents."

The report further details how Arab communities face economic discrimination, particularly Bedouin Arabs, and discrimination in education. Palestinians working in Israeli settlements, for instance, get paid less than the Israeli minimum wage.

Palestinians are not the only group the faces discrimination in Israel, however. The U.S. indicates that there is also institutional discrimination against intermarried families, refugees, foreign workers and non-Orthodox Jews in Israel.

The country's estimated 135,500 Ethiopian Jews face systemic discrimination, the report notes, as do Sephardi or Mizrahi Jews, those of Middle Eastern heritage.

Moreover, the State Department acknowledges that some foreign workers in Israel, particularly those who work in agriculture and construction, endure "conditions of forced labor, including the unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on freedom of movement, limited ability to change or otherwise choose employers, nonpayment of wages, exceedingly long working hours, threats, sexual assault, and physical intimidation."


Imprisonment and torture

"Throughout the year there were reports Israeli security forces in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank arbitrarily arrested and detained numerous Palestinian protesters and activists, particularly those participating in demonstrations against the separation barrier or against killings of Palestinians," the report notes.

Palestinians can be arbitrarily arrested without charge or trial and do not have access to a lawyer until after interrogation, a process that could last weeks. They are denied visits by family, medical professionals and more.

Some Palestinians are arrested in IDF raids of Palestinian homes, which typically take place at night.

There are roughly 7,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, roughly 6,000 of whom are Palestinian security prisoners or detainees from the occupied territories, including more than 400 children.

"These prisoners often faced harsher conditions than those of the general [Israeli] prison population," the report says.

The "'physical interrogation methods' permitted by Israeli law and used by Israeli security personnel could amount to torture," the State Department acknowledges, although Israeli officials denies this. Physical methods include beatings, forcing an individual to hold a stress position for long periods and painful pressure from shackles or restraints.

Forms of psychological abuse exist too, including solidarity confinement, sleep deprivation and threats to family members and their homes.

Authorities also use poor conditions and inadequate access to medical care as an interrogation or intimidation method, the report notes.

The State Department acknowledges that Israeli authorities use these tactics on Palestinian minors as well. Detained Palestinian minors face “extreme violence,” including sexual assault.

Citing a U.N. Children’s Fund report, the U.S. acknowledges “mistreatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic, and institutionalized.”

Israeli authorities use confessions that Palestinian children were forced to sign in Hebrew, which most of them are unable to read, as evidence against them in military courts, the State Department also acknowledges.

Israel tries Palestinians accused of throwing rocks in military courts, which NGOs say are inadequate and unfair. Israeli courts also use "secret evidence" in cases against Palestinians.

In some cases, Palestinians go on hunger strike for months at a time in protest of their arbitrary detention without charge or trial, causing permanent brain damage.

The State Department also mentions Israel's “anti-infiltrator” laws, which impose long-term detention on refugees and migrants, primarily those of African descent, who enter the country illegally.

It acknowledges that the Israeli government provides "protection and assistance to some refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern, including victims of trafficking, but not to others."

The report notes Israel's deportation of detained refugees and migrants, and the government’s failure to give refugee status to "the vast majority of migrants of sub-Saharan African origin, including Eritreans and Sudanese."

Thousands of African refugees and migrants are held in the Holot prison, including almost 200 torture survivors, where they face "severe cold in winter, heat in summer and poor food quality."


Settler attacks

Approximately 370,000 Israeli settlers lived in the occupied West Bank, with an additional roughly 250,000 in occupied East Jerusalem, according to the report.

"Violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians continue[s] to be a problem, as did only limited punishment of these acts by Israeli authorities," the State Department acknowledges.

There were 214 settler attacks as of December 2 that resulted in Palestinian injuries or property damage.

Of these hundreds of attacks, the report mentions an attack in July, in which extremist Israeli settlers firebombed the home of a Palestinian family, killing an 18-month-old infant and his parents.

"Some Israeli settlers reportedly used violence against Palestinians to harass them and to keep them away from land settlers sought to acquire," the U.S. says.

“Price tag” attacks carried out by extremist Israelis, are common "throughout the country," and target Arabs of all religions, including Muslims and Christians, the report notes.

These price tag attacks include arsons, defacement of homes and vehicles, damage to Muslim and Christian holy sites, assaults and damage to agricultural lands.

Graffiti with racist messages written in Hebrew are common, including phrases like “Death to Arabs” and “There is no coexistence with cancer.”

Israeli authorities "did not respond sufficiently to violence perpetrated against Palestinians by Israeli settlers in the West Bank," the State Department acknowledges. Authorities closed somewhere from 85 to more than 90 percent of files on these attacks without taking punitive action.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the report notes, said Israeli officials "displayed bias against Palestinian residents in investigating incidents involving Palestinian and Israeli actors." There was a mere 1.9 percent probability that a complaint submitted to Israeli police by a Palestinian would lead to a conviction.


Freedoms of press, speech and assembly

The report also details how Israeli authorities "restrict press coverage and place limits on certain forms of expression in the Palestinian Occupied Territories — particularly by restricting Palestinian journalists’ rights of movement and through violence, arrests and intimidation."

Palestinian journalists face "discrimination, harassment and violence in Jerusalem," not just in the occupied territories.

In Jerusalem, Israeli authorities punish displays of Palestinian political symbols, and Israeli security officials regularly prohibit or interrupt meetings of Palestinian politicians, the State Department acknowledges.

Israeli authorities restrict "coverage of incidents that might reflect badly on Israeli policies," the State Department says.

Israeli forces have also been accused of "permitting extremist Israelis to attack or intimidate Palestinian journalists," doing nothing to stop settlers’ attacks, the U.S. confirms.

Palestinian journalists have also been arrested and, under threat of violence, have been forced by Israeli authorities to delete photos and videos, the report notes.

Palestinian journalists have been physically attacked and pepper sprayed by the IDF, and have been shot with both live ammunition and rubber-coated steel bullets while reporting on protests.

The Israeli government also closes or threatens to close West Bank radio broadcasters and pressures other Palestinian journalists to self-censor.

Freedom of assembly is also limited for Palestinians. The State Department notes the IDF uses a 1967 military order that prohibits Palestinian demonstrations and limits freedom of speech in the West Bank. Under the order, Palestinians who gather in groups of larger than 10 people can be imprisoned for 10 years.

"The IDF d[oes] not respect freedom of assembly and often respond[s] to demonstrators aggressively," the State Department says.

Israeli security forces use violence and "military crowd-control techniques," including tear gas, stun grenades and live ammunition, to break up protests in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Palestinian civilians have been killed in this violence, including children as young as an eight-month-old Muhammad who inhaled tear gas.



The report additionally documents the frequent demolitions of Palestinian properties.

As of December 2, Israeli authorities demolished 499 Palestinian-owned structures in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, it notes.

Demolitions in August 2015 "reached an all-time high for any month over the past five years." Israeli authorities demolished 131 Palestinian structures in the month alone, displacing 201 people.

These demolitions sometimes make dwellings near destroyed homes uninhabitable, the report adds.

In July 2014, the Israeli government revived a policy of "punitive demolitions," which has continued.

In the West Bank and Jerusalem, Israel destroys homes, cisterns and other Palestinian buildings and property because they lack Israeli planning licenses. The State Department acknowledges, however, that Israeli "residence restrictions ma[k]e it almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain permits," while simultaneously "providing preferential treatment for Israeli settlements in these areas," effectively guaranteeing that Palestinians will be displaced and replaced by Israelis.

After forcibly evicting Palestinians from properties in occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli authorities "facilitat[e] takeover of their property by settler organizations," the U.S. confirms.

Citing the U.N., the State Department also indicates that settler violence, movement restrictions and restricted access to services and resources combine with demolitions to make displacement even worse.

The 2014 war in Gaza was especially disastrous, in terms of displacement.

The U.S. notes the conflict, known as Operation Protective Edge, internally displaced 520,000 people within Gaza, and damaged or destroyed more than 143,000 Palestinian homes.

As of September 2015 — more than a year later — the report indicates that just 6.7 percent of construction materials required to rebuild and repair the houses destroyed and damaged in the war had entered Gaza.


Restrictions on movement

Israel also imposes "severe restrictions on movement" on Palestinians, the State Department acknowledges.

Barriers to movement include a multitude of checkpoints, a separation barrier dividing the occupied West Bank from Israel and occupied East Jerusalem and road closures.

The IDF also enforces arbitrary curfews, limiting Palestinian freedom of movement.

"Restrictions on movement affec[t] virtually all aspects of life, including access to places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalistic, humanitarian and NGO activities," the report notes.

In the occupied West Bank, Palestinians face "significant restrictions" in accessing Jerusalem, and are frequently prohibited from traveling some or all cities.

"Palestinian travel is restricted or entirely prohibited on 41 roads and sections of roads throughout the West Bank, including many of the main traffic arteries, covering a total of more than 400 miles of roadway, upon which Israelis may travel freely," the report notes.

The Israeli government has also "obstructed refugee access to U.N.-provided humanitarian assistance in the West Bank and Gaza," the State Department acknowledges.

This restriction on movement has "negative economic effects," the State Department confirms.

Israel also imposes restrictions on the movement of goods into and out of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In Gaza, the restrictions on movement are even more harsh.

The Israeli naval blockade officially prevents Palestinian fishermen from moving six nautical miles off of the Gaza coast, but Israeli authorities still regularly shoot at fishers when they are within the six-mile mark, or tow them to Israeli ports, confiscate their boats and detain them, the U.S. acknowledges.

Israel also enforces a "buffer zone" within 328 feet of the Gaza boundary with Israel, restricting access to nearly 35 percent of Gaza’s cultivable land. Is Palestinian try to enter this territory, they are shot.

Gazan civilians have been shot and killed for walking up to 1,640 yards inside the border fence, "meaning, if the 'buffer zone' extended this far, it would constitute approximately 17 percent of the total territory of the Gaza Strip," the report notes.

Palestinians also face water shortages because of these restrictions, receiving less than the World Health Organization’s prescribed minimum daily water supply.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military destroys Palestinian wells and water cisterns, some of which donor countries funded for humanitarian purposes, the State Department notes.

The Israeli government imposes other restrictions on movement through political means.

Citing an Israeli human rights organization, the report confirms that Israel denies paperwork to Palestinians, effectively making them illegal residents.

"Some Palestinians defined as illegal residents faced harassment, arrest, or deportation to the Gaza Strip," the U.S. says.

From 1967 and 2014, the report furthermore indicates that Israel revoked the identity cards of 14,416 Palestinians from East Jerusalem, some of whom were born in Jerusalem. This amounts to forcing them into "exile to the occupied territories or abroad," the State Department confirms.

By Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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