Delegation of Inquiry of the International Committee for Palestinian Human Rights (ICPHR) to the Occupied Palestinian Territories

(February 1988)


-- Dr. Norbert Wimmer, Professor of Public Law at the University of Innsbruck, alternate member of the Constitutional Court of Austria
-- Dr. Josef Unterweger, Attorney-at-Law, member of the Association of Critical Jurists, Vienna (Austria)



on the Situation in the Occupied Territories

in Regard to the Hague Declaration and the Human Rights Convention




The undersigned have been retained at the request of the International Progress Organization and the Austrian-Arab Society between the 21st and 25th of February 1988 for investigate purposes in the Arab territories occupied by Israel (West Bank and Gaza-Strip).


In particular their commission called for the collection of facts and information that would make possible a judgement on the human rights situation in this area. In pursuit of this commission, the experts visited the cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Nablus and Gaza.


In all these cities, they spoke with representatives of the Palestinian trade unions, lawyers and distinguished Palestinian journalists. On the basis of their on-the-spot-inquiries and their numerous interviews, the undersigned arrive at the following statement.


II. General Situation


By our own perceptions, the situation in the occupied territories presents itself generally as follows:


In December of 1987, the Palestinians proclaimed a general strike that at the time, with few exceptions, was completely followed.


In essence, this means that the businesses stay open only three hours (either in the morning or in the afternoon). The schools are also closed. The entire public life of the Palestinian territories stagnates. Until its lifting, the general strike would just strengthen and intensify as the businesses were totally closed an the twenty-third and twenty-fourth of February.


For visitors, the occupied territories presented themselves as no-man's-land. The streets, in particular in Gaza, Nablus and Hebron, were totally empty as is the case for the eastern part of Jerusalem. People were only to be seen as lone individuals; mostly youths, some of which carried stones in their hands. This occurrence in the territories is not harmless -as Palestinian contacts confirmed; the Palestinians take all passing cars and their passengers as strike breakers and therefore assault them with stones. At any rate, the experts only observed these "street-fighters" sporadically in Gaza.


Far more attention is raised by the presence of the Israeli occupying forces. The occupied territories are completely encompassed by military forces. Heavily armed military patrols police the settlements, and check-points have been erected on the access roads.


A noticeable tension fills the air that always finds expression in clashes between the Palestinian civilian population and the military power. It is nevertheless evident for the observer that potential disruptions by the Palestinians could be kept under control by the Israelis on account of their military superiority.


In general it should be noted that the entire infrastructure of the occupied territories is in a thoroughly deplorable state. Long stretches of roads are destroyed; when it rains they turn into little lakes that hardly permit transit. The public buildings are devastated. Schools and public hospitals are in deep disrepair.


Altogether, it should be noted that the Palestinians suffer greatly under the general strike, but they carry on, on account of its political meaning.

The description to this point concerns the occupied territories in general. The situation in the refugee camps is in itself still more precarious. Here there is the particular danger, as also in the occupied territories, of an imminent famine. Already the prices climb such that the population can hardly still ensure their daily nutrition.



III. The situation of Human Rights


The following statement concerning human rights in the occupied territories is orientated around the Hague Declaration of 1899 and the Additional Protocol to the IVth Geneva Convention concerning the Protection of Civilians in Time of War. From this basis, the following can be stated:


1. In General


It may be maintained for the time being that according to Article 43 of the Hague Declaration, the public life in the occupied territories is to be upheld as long as no imperative obstacle exists, "under observance of the laws of the land", in which case current (Jordanian) law is to be applied.


In contrast to this, it is obvious that valid laws preceding the occupation (i.e. Jordanian laws) are extensively overshadowed and superseded by military orders. From this principle, one can conclude that the occupying law breaks the law of the Palestinians.

This condition becomes hardened by the quantity of the existing military orders. There are over 1,200 military orders in force at the moment, all of which supersede any previous provisions.


That for only a fraction of these occupying laws an acceptable "compelling" reason exists is demonstrated by example: the obtaining of a driver's license by a Palestinian is dependent an the issue of permission from the military governor. Also, the planting of a tree requires the permission of the occupying power.


The replacement of Jordanian laws with the laws of the occupying power further aggravates the situation because until 1981 the military orders were not publicized. Since then they have been published but only in part and in Hebrew. The least one could ask of a legal state is the publication of the laws, this having been neglected.


2. Protection of Life

(Article 46 of the Hague Declaration, Article 2 of the Human Rights Convention)


The life of the civilian population is protected under both Article 46 of the Hague Declaration and Article 2 of the Human Rights Convention.


Contrary to this is the fact that since the beginning of the general strike in December of 1987, more than sixty people have lost their lives at the hands of the Israeli security forces.


Without examining each case, it can't be accepted by the comparison of the mostly youthful victims and the well equipped and fully protected soldiers that in every case, the latter must have taken such drastic measures in self-defense against the youths.


The experts were given an account in Nablus of two people from a nearby neighborhood who were shot and then flogged as they lay on the ground.


The present conflict has led not only to deaths but also to injuries. It was evident during a visit to a private hospital in Nablus that a large number of the heavily wounded were minors. In one case, even a disabled person (infantile paralysis) was shot by a soldier. Wounds were found only seldom in the area of the legs. A greater number were found an the upper and middle body.


Based on x-ray photographs and conversations with the attendant doctors, it was ascertained that some of the bullets used were designed to explode within the body.


In one case where several burns were diagnosed, it was established by a statement from the victim that Israeli settlers doused the victim with gasoline and then set fire to him.


In summation, at the very least, it may be maintained that observance of the above mentioned human rights provisions was not given in certain cases.


3. Prohibition Against Torture


Clearly the violation of this human rights provision could be observed first-hand. According to testimony by Palestinian attorneys, torture is presently a widely practiced means of discipline and frequently a component part of the investigation. As a means of torture, particularly mentioned were:


-electric shocks,

- isolation,

- long lasting light deprivation,

-forced, long-lasting detention in the cold without appropriate clothing,

-deprivation of the opportunity to relieve one's self.


4. Collective Punishments

(Article 50 of the Hague Declaration)

According to testimony by attorneys, collective punishments are also applied as a means of terrorizing the civilian population, especially after demonstrations. To the numerous collective punishments belong:


-closing of business,

-evacuation of residences,

-relocation to inhospitable areas.


By these means of sanctions, we see that they may effect not only the potential "law breaker", but others who are not at all involved.


 5. Property

(Article 46 of the Hague Declaration, Article 1 of the First Additional Protocol of the Human Rights Convention)


The violation of this human right is examined in a number of cases.


In one, strategically favorable hilltops are transferred as property from Palestinian ownership to the ownership of either Israeli civilians or the Israeli state. This conflicts with Articles 53 and 55 of the Hague Declaration. Property violations also result from official procedure as shown by the destruction of Palestinian houses and their furnishings.


Lastly, heavy property seizure can also be found where the fees for social works, workers' health fund, and pension insurance are raised without corresponding improvements in insurance coverage returns. This can only be evaluated as a confiscation operation of the wage earnings of the Palestinian workers..


6. Fair Trial

(Article 6 of the Human Rights Convention)


In reference to this point we should refer briefly to the historical development. By Jordanian law there would be a five member body of judges. In the course of the strike, the Jordanian judges resigned in 1979. Soon afterward, their positions would be occupied by the Israeli military authority.


A further set-back in the legal development came when the military authorities enacted a large number of military orders. These were only printed in part and were hardly comprehensible. 

        On the one side the military authorities set up a military tribunal, which presented itself as the final authority an all matters of civil administration, an the other side they have set up military courts that dominate all criminal matters. The cases the military courts deal with entail violations seen as "security offenses". Here the jurisdiction does not appear to be exactly defined and the cases are not subject to review in the sequence of the courts. Moreover, the military courts have the authority, on any grounds, to take on a law case which is pending in a court with proper jurisdiction. Based on interviews with attorneys, the defendants will not be informed of the evidence against them or the subject of the bill of indictment for security reasons.

For the past five years, the military courts have had three judges on the bench, all of which would be officers. Only the presiding judge must be a jurist. There is no possibility for appeal against the decisions of the military courts. The judgements receive no review.


Defendants have told the experts that during their interrogation contact with their lawyer that is normally permitted is not allowed, and the defendant remains arrested for 18 days without any opportunity for a conversation.


After these events are made known, where the evidence against the defendant entails "secret documents", it can only be concluded that Article 6 of the Human Rights Convention is not being honored.



7. Preservation of Political Rights


The exercise of political rights, particularly as laid out in the Human Rights Convention, is presently very much obstructed. In contradiction to Article 11 of the Human Rights Convention, the Palestinians may not assemble. The freedom of the press is also affected by a censor. For example, newspapers printed in Jerusalem will not be legally distributed in either the West Bank or the Gaza-Strip. Freedom of association is not guaranteed. Also, trade unions will be broken up and the exercise of their activities hindered. The founding of political parties is prohibited.



8. Deportations

(Article 3 of the Second Additional Protocol

of the Human Rights Convention)


According to testimony by attorneys, 1,500 Palestinians have been deported (mostly to Lebanon). The deportations occur mainly without explanation. In Nablus, the experts visited the wife of a deported man. The first she had heard of the deportation of her husband was from the radio. Appeals to the authorities have been fruitless. It seems most of the deported are well educated.



III. Conclusion and Inferences


The investigation has found that altogether in the occupied territories, there is presently an abundance of serious human rights violations being committed by the Israeli occupying power.


The basis of these restrictions on security considerations for the state of Israel can in no way be recognized as legitimate. Although individual suspension of human rights in view of the raison d’état of the occupying state may conform with humanitarian law, it is nevertheless intolerable that the security risks of a state should be so defined that they represent a convenient platform for every encroachment on civil rights.


The state of things regarding the occupying power is also unreasonable because the Israelis have a practical power monopoly and no threat is evident, neither from a military or a state power.


It should be noted that it is not a question of the arbitrary acts of violence by the Israeli occupying forces. It is more the organizational way in which basic human rights are taken away.


It is no wonder that the Palestinian people have no trust in the continuity of their governance, in the objectiveness of the administration of justice, and in the propriety of the legislation.


This appears as "ideal" fertile soil for the constant acts of aggression by the occupying power, which would react in disproportionate ways to actions by the native population.

The accumulated violations of human rights by the Israelis in the occupied territories - viewed by Israel as a matter limited to an area in a state of emergency - conflicts with their basic responsibilities by the lowest standards of a constitutional state. The basic rights and the constitutional state are simply indivisible. This is also true in regard to human rights. Even the partial suspension of these basic rights implies the danger that Israel increasingly degenerates into a lawless state.


Jerusalem, 25 February 1988