Israel engaged in extensive human rights violations in 2016, including detaining or continuing to imprison thousands of Palestinians without charges or trial, torturing many of those held in custody, promoting illegal settlements in the West Bank and severely hampering the movement of Palestinians, according to the Amnesty International Annual Report, published on Wednesday.
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The report found that among those tortured and detained under administrative orders were also children. Methods of torture included beatings, painful shackling and sleep deprivation. Among 110 Palestinians killed last year by Israeli forces, the report charged, some posed no threat to life and thus were shot unlawfully.
Summing up human rights abuses in the past year, Salil Shetty, Amnesty’s secretary general, wrote in the report: “For millions, 2016 was a year of unrelenting misery and fear, as governments and armed groups abused human rights in a multitude of ways. Large parts of Syria’s most populous city, Aleppo, were pounded to dust by air strikes and street battles, while the cruel onslaught against civilians in Yemen continued. From the worsening plight of the Rohingya people in Myanmar to mass unlawful killings in South Sudan, from the vicious crackdowns on dissenting voices in Turkey and Bahrain to the rise of hate speech across large parts of Europe and the USA, the world in 2016 became a darker and more unstable place.”
He described the election of U.S. President Donald Trump as “perhaps the most prominent of many seismic events” on the world political stage. “His election followed a campaign during which he frequently made deeply divisive statements marked by misogyny and xenophobia, and pledge to roll back established civil liberties and introduce policies which would be profoundly inimical to human rights,” wrote Shetty.
Documents int'l 'poisonous rhetoric,' endangering of refugees' lives
"The State of the World’s Human Rights,” as the annual report is known, documents human rights violations in 159 countries. A press release attached to the report highlights 22 countries as “examples of the rise and impact of poisonous rhetoric, national crackdowns on activism and freedom of expression." The list includes – although the report notes that it was “by no means limited to” – China, Egypt, France, India, Iran, Syria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. Israel does not appear on this list.
The report documents how 36 countries, including Israel, broke international law by returning refugees to countries where their safety was at risk. It documents how people in 22 countries (not including Israel) were killed for peacefully standing up for human rights and how war crimes were committed in at least 23 countries (including Israel).
The report does not spare the Palestinian governing bodies either. “Neither the Palestinian government nor the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza took steps to ensure accountability for crimes committed by Palestinians armed groups in previous conflicts, including indiscriminate rocket and mortar attacks on Israel and summary killings of alleged ‘collaborators,’” it states. According to the report, Palestinians killed 16 Israelis, most civilians, and one foreign national in stabbings, car-rammings, shootings and other attacks last year.
The report expresses deep concern about Israel’s so-called Transparency Law, passed last year, which imposes new reporting requirements on organizations that receive most of their funding from foreign governments, citing it as an example of measures “to target human rights defenders in both Israel and the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories], who criticized Israel’s continuing occupation of the Palestinian territories.”
It also notes how the government has attempted to undermine the work of several prominent Israeli human rights groups, among them Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem and the Israeli branch of Amnesty International.
Bright spot on Israel's ledger: Trial of Elor Azaria
The report cites as a bright spot on Israel’s human rights record the decision to prosecute Sgt. Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who killed a wounded and immobile Palestinian attacker. (Azaria was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months in prison; the report was prepared before his conviction.) “Most members of the Israeli forces who committed unlawful killings of Palestinians faced no repercussions,” it notes.
The following are some of the highlights of the chapter on Israel:
* By the latest count, 694 Palestinians are being held under Israeli administrative detention orders – without criminal charges – most of them in Israeli prisons. This is the highest number recorded in close to 10 years. Three Israeli Jews were also taken into custody under administrative orders last year but relatively soon thereafter released.
* Even though roughly 1,000 complaints alleging torture by members of the Israeli security forces have been filed since 2001, no criminal investigations have been opened against them.
* Israel continues to use excessive force against Palestinian protesters, killing 22 and wounding thousands last year with rubber-coated metal bullets and live ammunition.
* Israel demolished 1,089 homes and other structures built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem without permits – representing a record number for one year. Many of the homes demolitions were in Bedouin communities. It also forcibly evicted 1,600 people from their homes.
* Israel also demolished hundreds of Arab homes inside Israel, which it said were built without permits.
* Israel demolished or made uninhabitable 25 homes of families of Palestinians who carried out acts of terror, as part of its policy of collective punishment.
* More than two years after Israel’s last war in Gaza, the military had closed investigations into 12 suspicious incidents, “despite evidence that some should be investigated as war crimes,” according to the report.
* At least 21 Israeli women, mainly Arab, were reportedly killed by their partners or family members last year – in some cases after police failed to provide them with adequate protection.
* Of more than 37,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers in Israel, more than 18,900 still have their applications pending.
* At least five conscientious objectors to military service were imprisoned last year. One of them, Tair Kaminer, was held for almost six months – longer than any other female conscientious objector in Israeli history.