Bethlehem - Ma'an - Amnesty International's 2010 report, released on Wednesday, revived the issue of Israeli war crimes committed during the country's war on Gaza last winter, and faulted western nations for failing to hold the nation to account.
During the 22-day Operation Cast Lead, Israel "carried out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians, targeted and killed medical staff, used Palestinian civilians as ‘human shields’ and indiscriminately fired white phosphorus over densely populated residential areas," the report reminded.
The report also detailed violence by Palestinian factions, and inter-Palestinian rivalry, and urged all parties to work toward a better human rights situation in the area.
Sharp rebukes, however, were saved for Israel. Amnesty International’s Israel director Itai Epstein was quoted in the daily Jerusalem Post, recalling the UN-mandated Goldstone report, which found grounds for charges of war crimes by Israel and Gaza resistance factions, which, - if Israel and Hamas fail to conduct independent investigations of the allegations - could well be referred to the International Criminal Court.
“Both Israel and Hamas owe a responsibility to the victims of the conflict,” said Epstein.
Epstein said that since Operation Cast Lead he has identified a deterioration in the state’s treatment of human rights groups.
“We in Amnesty International, as well as Israeli human rights organizations, have been coming under severe criticism and attack by government officials. We are worried about a public atmosphere that opposes human rights driven by the state’s leaders,” he said.
The 430-page report, with one chapter dedicated to rights abuses in Israel and the Palestinian areas it occupies, details rights violations well beyond the continuing aftermath of Operation Cast Lead.
Movement and access restrictions in the West Bank, ongoing raids and detention campaigns and Israel's treatment of minorities - including Palestinian citizens and residents of the country - are addressed in the document. The siege on Gaza is also discussed, and holds Israel accountable for an "ongoing humanitarian crisis," with a blockade the organization calls illegal.
“The restrictions included a military blockade of the Gaza Strip, which effectively imprisoned the 1.5 million residents and resulted in a humanitarian crisis.
“Despite this, Israel often stopped international aid and humanitarian assistance from entering Gaza. Permission to leave Gaza to receive medical treatment was denied or delayed for hundreds of seriously ill Palestinians and at least 28 individuals died while waiting for permission to travel,” the report said. Palestinian politics also censured by report
In a testiment to the complex realities faced by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the Amnesty report also detailed rights violations by the Gaza and Ramallah governments, particularly around politically-motivated detentions, and a lack of oversight for political bodies and security services.
During Israel's Operation Cast Lead, which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, “More than 30 individuals were summarily killed [by members of the Gaza government police and security forces]. Scores of others were shot in the legs, kneecapped or otherwise injured in ways intended to cause permanent disability, or they were severely beaten or otherwise tortured or ill-treated. These abuses were committed with impunity, with the apparent approval of the Hamas leadership," the report noted.
The report noted that the violence and repression lead to severe restrictions on freedom of expression for Palestinians, and expressed real concern over the deteriorating conditions for Palestinians throughout the region.