Israel/Occupied Territories/Palestinian Authority: The perils of avoiding human rights

'If General Zinni does not put human rights squarely on the table with both Israelis and Palestinians he may as well pack his bags now,' said Curt Goering, Deputy Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, who led the delegation.

The delegation had investigated escalating human rights abuses in the context of recent Israeli army incursions into Palestinian cities and camps and collected information into unlawful killings, including the killing of six medical staff, among them two doctors, large-scale destruction of houses and other objects, and arbitrary arrests of over 2,000 Palestinians.

Curt Goering emphasised that the USA needed to recognise its own contribution to human rights abuses raging in the region. 'We saw damage caused in Bethlehem University by four US-made TOW anti-tank missiles and it is difficult to imagine that the strike on the university was not intentional. US funding made construction of the new Millennium Building possible, US funding also made possible its devastation,' he added.

David Holley, an independent military adviser participating in the mission investigated weapons and assessed military strategies used in the Israeli Defence Forces' operations.

'The military operations we have investigated appear to be carried out not for military purposes but instead to harass, humiliate, intimidate and harm the Palestinian population,' he said.

'Either the Israeli army is extremely ill-disciplined or it has been ordered to carry out acts which violate the laws of war,' he added.

Elizabeth Hodgkin, the researcher in human rights in Israel/OT/PA, said that actions by Palestinian armed groups in targeting civilians, letting off bombs around groups of mothers and babies, and shooting arbitrarily at drivers on roads, were appalling tragedies and grave violations of the Geneva Conventions.

'But such unacceptable actions can never justify the human rights violations which, over the past 16 months, we have seen committed daily, hourly, even every minute on Palestinians by Israeli security forces.'

She described individual cases from the past three weeks: the tragedy of the lives of medical workers lost; the four houses of Palestinians from the northern Gaza Strip demolished without warning and with no chance to appeal, and the four members of a single family in Deheishe whose homes were demolished; the willingness of IDF soldiers to destroy, trash and loot any house belonging to any Palestinian; and the arrest and inhuman treatment of the hundreds of Palestinians, handcuffed and hooded, kept almost invariably without food, toilet facilities or any blanket for the first 24 hours.

'Only a few dozen of more than 2,000 arrested remain in detention,' she said. 'The arrests and the treatment under arrest appear to have been solely designed to degrade and humiliate those arrested.'

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