IDF Action in Palestinian Cities in the West Bank, October 2001: Interim Report of B’Tselem’s Findings
October 25, 2001
On Thursday, October 19, the Israeli military began extensive operations in the West Bank. As part of these operations, the IDF occupied large territories within Areas A. In addition to entering parts of the cities, a hermetic siege was imposed on a number of West Bank towns: Tulkarem, Jenin, Qalqilya, Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem. Up until the morning of Wednesday, October 24, 21 Palestinian civilians and 10 members of the Palestinian security forces were killed in these operations. Among the civilians killed were five minors and four women, as well as four civilians extrajudicially executed by Israel. At least ten additional Palestinians were killed yesterday in Beit Rima and other places in the West Bank. During this period, an Israeli civilian was also killed.
B’Tselem has yet to complete its detailed investigation into these events, due to the severe restrictions on movement in the Occupied Territories and the scope of the events. However, even at this stage, it is clear that IDF actions have severely harmed the human rights of the entire civilian population: * Many civilians, including children, who took no part in the hostilities have been killed and injured by IDF gunfire and shelling; * The hermetic closure, unprecedented in its severity, which Israel has imposed on most West Bank cities, and the curfew imposed on those neighborhoods occupied by the IDF, obstructs access to medical treatment and causes a shortage of food in a number of places; * A number of hospitals have been hit, and their operations disrupted due to the difficulties of medical staff and medicine to reach them. * For the first time since 1996, Israel has resumed its practice of demolishing the houses of the families of those suspected of attacks against Israelis. These demolitions are conducted with no legal process and clearly constitute a collective punishment.
The widespread military operations began following the assassination of Israeli Minister Rehevam Ze’evi. The declared goal of the operations was to capture those suspected of acts of violence against Israelis, and to prevent those planning acts of violence from leaving the cities. However, the timing of the operation, its character and its results, strongly suggest that this was an act of vengeance while applying pressure to the entire Palestinian population.
Moreover, security justifications cannot excuse a widescale assault on hundreds of thousands of civilians. An indiscriminate assault on this scale constitutes collective punishment, forbidden under international law.
An initial examination of the events of the last days suggests that the IDF continues to employ a policy of “an easy trigger-finger” and demonstrates a disregard for human life. Defense Minister, Benjamin Ben Eliezer has said that “the harm to civilians has been minimal, but with Palestinians it’s a procedure to hide behind civilians and shoot.” This cynical comment is absurd, and demonstrates the negligent treatment toward harming civilian. Testimonies gathered by B’Tselem indicate not only that the harm to civilians is far from minimal, but that in some cases, civilians were injured in areas where there was no Palestinian gunfire. A more accurate picture is revealed in the statement of Brigadier General Jerry Yitzhak, Commander of IDF Forces in the West Bank, who told reporters that “an innocent population has been injured by our entry into Areas A.” It is no doubt that this injury is the unavoidable consequence of the decision to undertake a wide scale military operation within population centers.
Entry of IDF forces into Areas A and the tightening of the siege around Palestinian cities paralyzed movement between the cities and the hundreds of villages surrounding them. The result is a shortage of food and water in certain places, severely obstructed access of patients and medical crews to hospitals and delays in the supply of medicine and perishable medical equipment to hospitals. Despite the IDF’s statements that it would allow movement of patients to hospitals, the reality on the ground points to the contrary. Patients and women in labor en route to hospitals in besieged cities have been detained, or in many cases unable to get through the roadblocks.
Over the course of the al-Aqsa intifada, B’Tselem has often criticized the IDF, and determined that Israeli security forces use excessive force both against unarmed demonstrators and when shooting into heavily populated areas. B’Tselem has also maintained that Israel’s restrictions on the free movement of Palestinians deny basic needs and constitute collective punishment. The events of recent days have exacerbated the suffering.
B’Tselem warns of the grave humanitarian consequences of recent IDF actions. With every passing day, the harm to civilians increases. A continuation of this course of action will cause more innocent deaths, severe food and water shortages and even greater damage to the health and education systems.
B’Tselem urges Israel:
* Avoid fighting in population centers;
* Remove the hermetic siege and allow, in all circumstances, free movement of patients, medical crews, medicine and food supplies;
* Avoid damaging hospitals;
* Cease demolishing the houses of relatives of suspects;
* Conduct speedy and efficient investigations of all cases in which innocent civilians were injured and bring criminal charges against those responsible.
Three testimonies illustrating the IDF’s assault on the civilian population, “Death of a Child in Her Classroom”, “Bullet and shell damage to the hospital in Beit Jala” and “Death of a Child After Delay of Women in Labor en route to Hospital” can be found in B’Tselems Web Site: WWW.BTSELEM.ORG
B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories is the leading Israeli organization monitoring, documenting and advocating to improve human rights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Founded in 1989, B’Tselem publishes reports, engages in advocacy and serves as a resource center. 8 HaTa’asiya St. (4th Floor), Talpiot, Jerusalem 93420, Israel New Telephone: 02-6735599, New Fax: 02-6749111 firstname.lastname@example.org <http://www.btselem.org>