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US accuses Israel of 'excessive use of force' in human rights report

April 15, 2016 6:24 P.M. (Updated: April 26, 2016 5:54 P.M.)
Israeli forces tend to an injured soldier, next to the body of a Palestinian man who attacked him outside Hebron, Oct. 16, 2015. (AFP/Hazem Bader, File)
By: Killian Redden

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The US has accused Israel of an "excessive use of force" against Palestinians, amounting to a violation of human rights, in its annual report of global human rights abuses.

The US Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015 published Thursday highlighted numerous allegations of Israeli rights abuses, including the arbitrary arrest and torture of Palestinians, as well as restrictions on their freedom of movement and speech.

But most significant was the report's focus on Israel's excessive use of force, which follows months of similar allegations by local and international NGOs, as well as senior UN officials and foreign leaders, including, earlier this year, a group of prominent US congressmen.

The US report said that through the final months of 2015, after a wave of unrest swept the occupied Palestinian territory in October, Israeli forces killed 127 Palestinians, of whom 77 were allegedly attacking Israelis.

"In a number of these incidents, there were reports of human rights abuses related to actions by Israeli authorities," the report said. "NGOs published multiple reports alleging that Israeli security forces committed unlawful killings."

It pointed in particular to a report by Amnesty International (AI) late in October that documented at least four incidents of Palestinians who were shot dead when they posed no imminent threat to life.

These included 18-year-old Hadeel Hashlamon who was shot dead at a Hebron checkpoint in September. The US report said: "Pictures of the standoff that led to her death and accounts by eyewitnesses that AI interviewed showed that she at no time posed a sufficient threat to the soldiers to justify their use of deliberate lethal force."

It also mentioned Abdullah Shalaldah, 28, who was shot dead when Israeli forces stormed al-Ahli Hospital in Hebron in order to detain his cousin. "While the IDF released a statement that Abdullah Shalaldah tried to attack them, witnesses reported to AI that he was unarmed, was standing some distance away, and had not attempted to attack them," the report said.

The Israeli army's excessive use of force has come under the spotlight in recent weeks after an Israeli soldier's gruesome killing of a wounded Palestinian was captured on camera in Hebron last month.

The killing was branded an "extrajudicial execution" by UN officials, while international rights groups and the Palestinian leadership stressed it was not an isolated incident but representative of routine Israeli army practice.

Shortly afterward, a letter was made public that had been sent in February by a group of 10 senior US congressmen to US Secretary of State John Kerry suggesting that US military assistance to Israel should be suspended if reports of Israeli rights violations, including "extrajudicial killings," should be proven true.

Rights abuses by range of actors

The US human rights report for the occupied Palestinian territory highlighted a range of other potential rights abuses by Israel, including the "arbitrary arrest" of Palestinians of all ages, their "austere and overcrowded detention facilities," and "improper detention procedures."

It pointed also to the "demolition and confiscation of Palestinian property; limitations on freedom of expression, assembly, and association; and severe restrictions on Palestinians' internal and external freedom of movement."

Looking beyond Israel, the report also detailed a wide range of human rights violations by the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The report pointed to the PA's mistreatment of detainees, restrictions on freedom of speech, widespread corruption, violence against women, as well as issues of discrimination based on sexual orientation and disability. Among other issues noted were child labor and forced labor.

In Gaza, meanwhile, the report said that "human rights abuses under Hamas included security forces killing, torturing, arbitrarily detaining, and harassing opponents, including Fatah members, and other Palestinians with impunity."

It also discussed Hamas' restrictions on the freedom of speech and movement, as well as the abuse of women and children and similar discrimination to those seen in the West Bank.

In recent years, the Palestinian leadership has stepped up efforts dramatically to apply international pressure on Israel to end its nearly 50-year military occupation.

Last month, it asked the UN to investigate allegations of extrajudicial killings, and the International Criminal Court is currently conducting a preliminary probe into the possibility of Israeli war crimes against Palestinians.

At the same time, however, the PA has used increasingly brutal means to maintain its own position among a disaffected population, detaining political opponents and preventing mass demonstrations. Many Palestinians accuse the government of working too closely with Israel.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the US Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which is intended to help determine the allocation of US foreign aid.

However, while the report has recorded Israeli human rights violations for decades, the US has continued to provide more than $3 billion in military assistance to Israel every year.

In their letter to Kerry published last month, the group of 10 congressmen suggested that "a unique situation" created since the Camp David Accords had "hindered" the usual mechanisms in determining the provision of US military assistance and monitoring its use.
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