Under Trump, U.S. Human Rights Report No Longer Calls West Bank 'Occupied'

The report seems to demonstrate the Trump administration's approach towards Israel and the Palestinians, seeking input on human rights violation accusations mainly from the Israeli government

A Palestinian mother and her children walk past Israeli soldiers during clashes with Israeli soldiers in Hebron on April 20, 2018
HAZEM BADER/AFP

WASHINGTON - The State Department's annual report on human rights violations around the world was published on Friday, and it demonstrated the new approach of the Trump administration towards Israel and the Palestinians. Unlike previous years, the report did not contain a section about "Israel and the Occupied Territories," but a section titled "Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza." 

The report also included an unusual paragraph about methodology, which did not appear in last year's report, stating: "We have sought and received input from the government of Israel (and, where relevant, the Palestinian Authority) with regard to allegations of human rights abuses, and we have noted any responses where applicable. Because of timing constraints, the Israeli government was not able to provide a detailed response to every alleged incident, but it did maintain generally that all incidents were thoroughly investigated and parties held accountable, as appropriate, according to due process of law."

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In addition, the report contains a new note about the status of Jerusalem, in light of President Trump's decision last year to recognize the city as the capital of Israel. It states that "issues primarily related to Israeli residents of Jerusalem are covered in the 'Israel and the Golan Heights' section. On December 6, 2017, the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is the position of the United States that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties."

Despite these changes, many of the contents of the report have remained somewhat similar to what had been published in previous years. The report details human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza, conducted both by the Israeli military and by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. 

Those violations include restrictions on freedom of movement, arbitrary arrests, demolition of houses, limitations on freedom of speech and assembly, and arrests of Palestinian minors. Many of these violations, however, are presented in the report as "allegations" made by human rights organizations, media reports or specific individuals, and are often countered with responses made by the Israeli authorities, and in some cases, by the PA. 

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The report states that "the most significant human rights issues included Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces in the West Bank and Jerusalem, which killed 13 Israelis. Israeli forces killed 68 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, four of whom nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media reported did not pose a lethal threat to Israeli Security Forces (ISF) or civilians at the time they were killed. 

Other significant human rights issues included allegations that interrogation techniques used by Israeli security forces constituted torture; allegations that security detention procedures constituted arbitrary arrest; demolition and confiscation of Palestinian property; limitations on freedom of expression, assembly, and association; severe restrictions on Palestinians’ internal and external freedom of movement pursuant to military law; and concerns that Palestinian children were vulnerable to Israeli violations of the law regarding arrest, physical restraint, night interrogations, treatment during interrogations, and holding conditions.

The report then stated that "the government of Israel asserted these events took place in a context of Palestinian incitement to violence against Israel."

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Furthermore, the report stated that "terrorist organizations and militant factions in Gaza launched rocket and mortar attacks against civilian targets in Israel, and they did so at or near civilian locations in Gaza." It also contained more than a dozen human rights violations initiated by Hamas against the residents of Gaza, including "unlawful and arbitrary killings, disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention" and also "widespread and arbitrary enforcement of “morality codes” against women by authorities; official harassment and arbitrary detention of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; restrictions on independent labor unions, and reports of forced labor and child labor."

Another significant change in this year's report, not related to Middle East policy, has been the cancellation of a previously included section dealing with violations of "reproductive rights." This section was added by the Obama administration to the annual report in 2011, but this year, has been dropped under instructions of the Trump administration.