Feb 10 2000

Israel’s human rights violations

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

Human rights was on my mind all this week both because of the international human rights film festival in Ramallah and because of the bombings of the power supply of three major Lebanese cities. But is human rights applicable only to individuals or is there a term for the collective rights of a people.

The morning of the film festival I listened to the radio to hear news of the collective punishment that the Israeli airforce was meting out to the people of Lebanon. The Israelis who have lost soldiers in occupied south Lebanon, decided to violently involve the general Lebanese public into their conflict by interrupting their daily lives. Nothing could be a more flagrant violation of human rights. The Geneva Convention, which Israel is a signatory to, makes it clear that intentionally targeting a civilian population or civilian property is forbidden. The key word here is “intentional.” Had the Israelis hit the electricity plant by mistake or had it been located near a military post and was hit, then this could be justified as “collateral” damage. But to publicly declare and to actually target a major source of electricity for the people of Lebanon is absolutely illegal according to international law.

The attack is also a clear violation of a much more recent binding international agreement. The third clause in the April Understanding which was reached in April 1996 is even more explicit. It lists industrial and electric locations as areas that should not be attacked nor used as a base for attacks. Attacks on the military are not listed as being exempt and therefore for Israelis the attacks on their military can’t be used as justification for these attacks. And this is exactly why the Israelis are trying to get themselves out of their commitments under the April Understanding. As a friend of mine said, they want to make it illegal to mount resistance attacks on their military.

Collectively turning the lights off on the people of Lebanon echoed in my mind during a panel I chaired as part of the Human Rights Film Festival about media and human rights. In the panel, Israeli journalist Amira Hess attempted to give a score card on the successes and failures of the Israelis press in curbing human rights abuses against Palestinians. “We have made major success in the areas of administrative detentions and house demolitions,” she said. Hess explained that today only 14 Palestinians remain in Israeli jails that behave not been charged or tried.

She also noted that as a result of the tireless work of the Israeli-Palestinian Committee Against House Demolitions and their media campaign, far fewer Palestinian homes are being demolished these days. However, the major failure of the press, according to Hess was in the area of the freedom of movement. “Since 1994, the movement of 2.4 million Palestinians has been curtailed as a result of the Israeli closure policy.” She explained that all her attempts and those of other Israeli journalists has not caused any substantive ease or end to this collective punishment. Unlike house demolitions or administrative detentions this collective policy was difficult to get a real grasp of. Pointing out human interest stories of people cut off from their loved ones or unable to travel from Gaza to the West Bank or from both to Jerusalem has not dented Israeli policy.

Hess also accurately claimed that the Palestinian elite has not given this issue much attention. It is obvious that once they got their VIP cards or permits they didn’t care about the rest of the population. Hess is convinced that behind the Israeli policy of curtailing the movement of Palestinians a political aim. They want to isolate Gaza from the West Bank and they want to isolate Jerusalem.

The notion of human rights as an individual issue quickly evaporates when put against the test of these collective restrictions. Keeping the Lebanese in the dark and Palestinians in ghettos is certainly not a prelude for a lasting peace in the region. Normal every day people need to know when they can have a stable life. If the Israelis think that by turning off the lights on major Lebanese cities or restricting the travel of Palestinians people will turn against their own leaders, they are wrong. History shows that in such times of crisis and hardships people always wrap themselves in their national flag. They will support their national leaders and put aside all their internal conflicts and criticism.

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