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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-state-of-israel-and-the-occupied-palestinian-territories-opts-human-rights-priority-country/human-rights-priority-country-update-report-january-to-june-2016
1. West Bank including East Jerusalem
Since January, violence has gradually declined in the West Bank. But the situation has remained volatile with a number of significant attacks. The UK has condemned the continued violence and called for both sides to de-escalate tensions.
Between 1 January and 30 June, there were 76 Palestinian deaths and 2,273 injuries caused by the Israeli security forces. The majority of Palestinian injuries were caused by tear gas, rubber bullets and live fire. There were 5 Israeli deaths caused by Palestinian civilians in the same period and 71 injuries. On 30 June, a 13-year old dual American-Israeli girl was killed while sleeping in her bed in Kiryat Arba.
The Israeli authorities responded to the violence with a number of security and legislative measures, some of which have violated the human rights of Palestinians. On 24 March, an Israeli soldier shot and killed a Palestinian man lying wounded and apparently incapacitated on the ground in Hebron, following a stabbing. The soldier was arrested and charged with manslaughter. However, overall, attacks in Hebron tailed off from January and some checkpoints were removed.
Israeli authorities continued to withhold a number of bodies of Palestinians on the basis that they perpetrated attacks. As of 30 June, Israel was withholding the bodies of nine Palestinians. Punitive demolitions continued; during the reporting period the Israeli army demolished 15 homes belonging to families of Palestinians suspected of perpetrating attacks against Israelis.
Settler violence decreased between January and June with 18 casualties and 37 incidents of property damage. The UK welcomed the action Israel has taken against Jewish extremists, including the indictment against the perpetrator of the horrific arson attack in Duma in July 2015. We continued to call upon the Israeli authorities to enhance investigations, accountability and deterrence.
The continuing violence led to an increase in Palestinians being held in administrative detention. The UN reported that, by the end of April, there were almost 700 Palestinian administrative detainees, more than double the figure in September 2015. By April, the International Committee of the Red Cross assessed there were over 400 Palestinian children detained in Israeli prisons, 13 in administrative detention. But the Israeli Prison Service reported the number had decreased to approximately 260 children by June, including seven in administrative detention. In February, a follow-up visit by the British lawyers who authored the 2012 Children in Military Custody report was cancelled by the lawyers after the Israeli authorities decided not to facilitate contact between Israeli experts and the lawyers. The British Embassy in Tel Aviv continued to lobby Israeli ministers and senior government officials on administrative and child detainees. We were also concerned by the interrogation techniques used on detainees by the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Policies implemented under the occupation continued to have a negative impact on human rights. In early 2016 there was a substantial increase in the demolition of Palestinian structures in Area C. On 15 February, the community of Ain Rashash, home to 60 people including 38 children, was demolished. By March, the total number of demolitions for the whole of 2015 had been surpassed. We were concerned that by 30 June, 593 structures had been demolished, resulting in the displacement of 878 people in the reporting period.
The UK remained deeply concerned by the continuation of illegal settlement building, including the seizure of Palestinian land and moves to retroactively legalise existing outposts. Activity in the Jericho area was of particular concern. In January, the Foreign Secretary expressed concern at Israel’s intention to declare 385 acres of land to the south of Jericho to be “state land”. Israel formally declared this to be “state land” in March and extended it to 585 acres. An FCO spokesperson condemned the decision. In June, an FCO spokesman also expressed concern at the Jerusalem municipality’s decision to issue a permit for a new four-storey building in Silwan, East Jerusalem. Illegal settlements have consequences for the contiguity of a Palestinian state and are a direct threat to the viability of the two-state solution.
We were also concerned by the PA’s approach to freedom of expression. During the teachers’ strike of February/March, the PA set up checkpoints and roadblocks, designed to prevent protests in Ramallah. The Al-Haq human rights organisation reported that teachers were arrested and intimidated by the Palestinian security forces. We are concerned about reports of restrictions on freedom of expression and violations against media freedoms, including on social media.
In April, a Presidential decree established the first Palestinian Constitutional Court. Human rights and legal organisations expressed concern about lack of consultation and the potential that this measure could consolidate more power in the Presidency.
In the first week of May, two attack tunnels running from south Gaza into Israel were discovered. Tensions along the Israel-Gaza border increased significantly, with Israeli anti-tunnel operations. Gaza militants fired mortars into Israel and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) retaliated with airstrikes, resulting in one Palestinian death and several injuries. In the reporting period there were 25 rocket attacks from militants in Gaza into Israel, while the IDF carried out 18 incursions along Gazan border areas.
In April, the Israeli authorities temporarily extended the fishing zone along the Gazan southern coast to nine nautical miles, in place until 26 June.
The Hamas authorities issued significantly more death sentences. Ten have been issued since January, three of which were carried out without the ratification of the Palestinian President. The EU Missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah issued statements of condemnation in January, April and June. The UK continued to oppose the use of the death penalty in all circumstances.
The humanitarian situation remained deeply concerning. Access to electricity was severely hampered; on 8 April, the Gaza Power Plant shut down after exhausting fuel reserves. This triggered power cuts of 18-20 hours a day. On 6 May, three children died in a house fire caused by the use of candles during a blackout. Disruptions to the energy supply also disrupted the supply of water.
The UK continued to support the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM) which made further progress in the reporting period; 79,803 have completed repairs, out of a total of 171,000 damaged homes. However, we were concerned by reports of the diversion of cement entering Gaza by Hamas, which led to the partial suspension of the GRM in April and May. Israel resumed import of cement on 23 May, after intense efforts by the PA, Israeli authorities and the UN to resolve the issue. Only 39% of pledges to the reconstruction of Gaza have been disbursed; we continued to encourage international donors to honour their commitments.
Between 1 January and 30 June, the Rafah Crossing Point remained closed except for nine days. We continued to urge Egypt to show flexibility. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, during the reporting period an average of 35 truckloads a week left Gaza, a fraction of 2007 levels. The number of truckloads entering Gaza increased to an average of 2,115 truckloads a week; this is an improvement but still short of the 2,807 leaving in 2007.
We were deeply concerned by terror attacks in Tel Aviv. On 1 January, two were shot dead and seven injured by an Israeli-Arab. The taxi driver who picked up the assailant was also killed. On 8 March, an American tourist was fatally stabbed and nine wounded by a Palestinian assailant. Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, released a statement to condemn the attack. On 18 April, a bomb exploded on a bus in West Jerusalem, injuring 21 people. Hamas welcomed this and other attacks on Israelis. On 8 June, 2 Palestinians carried out a mass shooting in the Sarona Market area of Tel Aviv, killing four people and injuring 15. The shooting in June was again condemned by the then Prime Minister, the then Foreign Secretary and Mr Ellwood.
The Israeli authorities responded to the June attack by suspending 83,000 permits issued exceptionally to Palestinians for family visits into Israel during Ramadan. While we appreciate the security concerns of Israel, we were concerned by the impact this response had on the lives of ordinary Palestinians.
Freedom of expression and worship were largely observed and respected in Green Line Israel. However, we were concerned by the advancement of a bill to increase the transparency requirements for NGOs which receive the majority of their funding from foreign governments; if passed, the bill would be most likely to affect pro-peace, human rights NGOs. We have been clear that the NGO bill is discriminatory and runs counter to Israel’s democratic traditions.