Scales for Justice

Working towards peace and reconciliation



Scales for Justice (S4J) country visit to Palestine 

S4J was founded in the conviction that justice is precondition for universal and lasting peace, yet that far far too often injustice remains unnoticed and far too few times action is taken. S4J therefore sees its task in collecting information on issues related to human rights and to engage the concerned human rights bodies of the United Nations accordingly.

S4J is particularly concerned about violations of the four fundamental freedoms, especially when violations affect fundamental rights such as the right to life and liberty, the right to due process and law, freedom of thought and freedom of expression. S4J further examines cases of racial discrimination and racially motivated violence.

In order to understand the sitution on the grund S4J undertook several field visits to the occupied Palestinian territories, the latest of whom in April 2015. S4J remains deeply concerned about the situation, as the ongoing illegal occupation and creeping land annexation of Palestine have led to a systematic pattern of harassment, abuse, discrimination and  violence that affect Palestinian human rights on all levels.

Background

The question of Palestine and Israel has commanded the attention of the UN since the organization was founded. The UN General Assembly voted the original partition of the land on 29 November 1947 and divided the area into into an Arab state, a Jewish state and the Special International Regime for Jerusalem . The UN deployed its first peacekeeping operation to monitor the ceasefire lines after the war of 1948, during which Israel annexed an additional 26% of the Mandate territory. During the 6 day war in 1967 Israel conquered and militarily occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, Syria’s Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai. 

The 1967 UN Resolution 242  called for negotiations of a permanent peace between the parties, and for  Israeli withdrawal from lands occupied in 1967, however until today,  the occupation is still going strong. The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993 and 1995, brought about the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and with it the illusion that Israel’s impact on the lives of Palestinians would henceforth be no more than negligible. Yet, to this day, Israel is the most dominant factor influencing the daily lives of all residents of the West Bank and only 18% of the West Bank (area A) full under full Palestinian control, whereas 82% remain under either full (area C, 60%) or shared control (area B, 22%). Many Israeli leaders claim much of Area C as Israeli territory.

One of the most critical aspects of the Israeli occupation is the continuing establishment of settlements. Since 1967, some 250 settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have been established, either with or without Government authorization. The number of settlers is estimated at 520,00015 (200,000 in East Jerusalem and 320,000 in the rest of the West Bank). According article 49 of the fourth Geneva Conventions settlements are illegal. Nevertheless so far tens of thousands of hectares of land, have been seized from Palestinians for the express purpose of building settlements. A significant portion of these lands has been declared state land, other areas have been usurped from Palestinians by force. In addition, settlements are granted generous financial allocations. All lands allocated and connected to settlements have been designated closed military zones which Palestinians may not enter without a permit.

According to an UN report the establishment of the settlements leads to a creeping annexation that prevents the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian State and undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. 

The impact the settlements have on Palestinians’ human rights however goes far beyond the land grabbed for settlements: additional lands were confiscated from Palestinians to build hundreds of kilometers of bypass roads for the settlers; checkpoints and other measures that restrict only Palestinian movement were set up; much Palestinian farmland has become effectively off-limits to its owners; and the route of the Separation Barrier in the West Bank was planned primarily to keep as many settlements and large areas designated by Israel for their expansion. The current route seriously disrupts Palestinian's lives, limiting their access to farmland, essential services and to friends and relatives who have remained on the other side. It also precludes any possibility for development in these areas. (Source: BTselem)

Scales for Justice (S4J) Country visit

S4J has visited the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) several times over the past years. During its last visit in April 2015 the NGO visited several areas especially affected by the establishment of settlements and the Separation barrier, met with peace organizations, local activists and human rights defenders, as well as with victims and families of children held in detention.

The situation in Hebron

Hebron is a microcosm of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Located in the south West Bank, it holds the ancient city houses the Cave of the Patriarchs, also called the Mosque of Ibrahim, a site holy to both Muslims and Jews because it holds the graves of the biblical forefathers Abraham, Rebecca, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah and Leah. Hebron is the largest city in the West Bank, home to roughly 200,000 Palestinians and the only city in the West Bank  with Jewish settlements inside its urban area: around 600 settlers live in the four settlements of Avraham Avinu, Beit Romano, Beit Hadassah and Tel Rumeida, guarded 24/7 by an army of approximately 1,500 soldiers. Two larger Jewish settlements (Kiryat Arba and Givat Harsina with a combined population of 6,400) sit on the hills overlooking the Hebron’s eastern neighbourhoods.  

Access and movement restrictions exist for Palestinians on all roads that run between, toward or adjacent to settlements. Security roads around Kiryat Arba and Givat Harsina settlements restrict the access to Palestinian agricultural land and farmers are required to pass through gates and obtain permits to reach their land.

Following the 1994 Baruch Goldstein massacre (a Jewish settler  murdered 29 Palestinians during the Friday prayer), rather than removing volatile settlements, the Israeli military established a policy of separation between settlers and Palestinians on Hebron’s streets. The result is a network of heavily guarded enclaves, whose presence punishes Palestinian neighbors with a matrix of checkpoints and restricted areas.

Hebron's Shuhada Street after closures

One of the most affected areas was Hebrons main market street, Shuhada street, where as a result of the Israeli military policy about 1800 Palestinian shops were either closed due to military orders or to the heavy measures imposed on customers and suppliers. Until this day the remaining Palestinian families living in the street are subject to severe restrictions and need to leave their homes through their back doors or climb over their neighbor’s roofs in order to reach their homes. Formerly the market street used to serve half a million nearby inhabitants.


Settlers in Hebron among the most extreme settlers in the West Bank  and and often prove to be extremely violent against Palestinians. According to an OCHA report this violence is aimed at pushing Palestinian families out of the area, particularly those living close to settlements. Families living around Tel Rumeida settlement, for example, are subject to daily attacks. Metal netting has been erected above the sections of Old Shalala Street and in the Old Suq, from where settlers throw garbage and stones to discourage movement below. Nevertheless authorities neglect to fulfill their responsibility and do little to prevent Israeli civilians from attacking Palestinians.

 

Destroyed water tank

As if to examplify the situation, while S4J was sitting with local activists from Youth Against Settlements (YAS) setttler children destroyed one of the water tanks of the center, yet neither the parents nor the soldiers standing nearby were in any way interested. Despite these difficulties S4J was impressed to learn that groups like YAS are determined to continue their struggle in a purely pacific way, raising awareness about the situation, yet never taking recourse to any form of violence. S4J's visit was concluded by a tour through the old city of Hebron.

 


S4J with Issa Amro from YAS

The ugly face of closures

 

Jawad Abu Aesheh and Murad Amro

Hebron's market

 

Murad Amro from YAS with S4J

The former gold market


Checkpoint separating H1 and H2

No explanation needed ...


The situation in Bil'in

The village of Bil’in is located in the central West Bank, 12 kilometers west of Ramallah, and 4 kilometers  inside the “Green Line”, which forms the pre-1967 border between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The population of Bil'in is of approximately 1,800 and the residents depend on agriculture as their main source of income.

In 2002 Israel began the construction of the separation barrier. From the moment construction began, Palestinians protested its route, as  eighty-five percent of the  route run in the West Bank, separating Palestinian communities and farming land from the rest of the West Bank. The inclusion of Israeli settlements behind the Barrier is the most important factor behind for the course of the route. According to an OCHA report approximately 150 Palestinian communities have land located behind the Barrier and agriculture-based livelihoods of thousands of families have been undermined.

 

In 2004 the International Court of Justice ruled that the wall is illegal and must stop immediately, noting that combined with the Israeli settlements, the barrier alters the demographic composition of the occupied Palestinian territory and impedes the Palestinians' right to self-determination. Israel should make reparations for any damage caused by its erection, the judges ruled, stop construction immediately and dismantle the sections of the barrier that have already been built. Nevertheless the contruction of the wall continues until this day. The full route is now 700 km of zigzagging curves and loops, making it more than twice as long as the Green Line. According to the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, 8.5% of the West Bank area will be on the Israeli side of the barrier upon completion.


Construction of the sparation barrier in the Bil’in area began in 2005 and 60 percent of the village's farmland was illegally cut off. Since 2005, villagers have protested every Friday, side by side with international and Israeli peace activists. From the beginning on Israeli forces have met these protests with excessive violence. Since the demonstrations began hundreds of protestors have been arrested, and dozens have been killed or injured.  As a result of the protests and numerous petitions to Israel’s High Court of Justice, the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the barrier to be rerouted back. The new route was closer to the “Green Line”, restoring some of Bil’in’s land. 2.7 kilometers (1.7 miles) of the barrier (in the form of a barbed wire fence) were replaced with a 3.2-kilometer (1.9-mile) concrete wall.


Bilin has hence become a symbol of Palestinian popular resistance against Israeli policies in the West Bank, and the village’s struggle to regain its land became the subject of the 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary "5 broken cameras". Although the village succeeded to get back 700 dunams [70 hectares] of land that had been cut off, even after the adjustment, 1,500 dunams [150 hectares] of Bil’in’s lands remain west of the Separation Barrier and protests continue to be held every week. S4J met with Abdallah Aburahma, who had been in Geneva to assist meetings of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in March 2015 and who showed S4J around to better understand the situation on the ground.

The land of Bil'in

Settlement


Divided by the wall

Garden made with teargas canisters


Overlooking settlements

Sunset in Bil'in


Gate for the military

Wall dividing the land


The situation in Al Beqa

Al Beqa is a Palestinian rural village located just east of Hebron. It is sandwiched between the Israeli settlements Givat Harsina and Kiryat Arba, in area C, under full Israeli control. About half a kilometer west of the village lies the small locality Wadi al-Ghrous, separated by the bypass road 3507, which cuts across the village and connects two settlements.  Al Beqa and its neighbour Wadi al-Ghrous are heavily affected by the Israeli occupation. Isolated from the rest of the West Bank by settlements, bypass roads, road blocks and barriers a significant part of their land has been expropriated for the building of settlements and roads.

Settlers seek to take more land in order to connect Givat Harsina and Kiryat Arba to one big settlement and they have proven to be extremely violent in the pursuit of this aim.  Over the past Palestinian residents have repeatedly been subjet of settler attacks carried out with impunity and in plain view of the army. Demolitions and confiscations by settlers and military further worsen the situation. Numrous houses are subject of demolition orders and Israeli authorities and settlers attempt to make life impossible for Palestinians in the area with the clear aim to expel them. Among the means is the strategy to starve out local residents. Beqa’a Valley is the most fertile land in the Hebron district, yet the settlements in the district are allocated the majority of the water resources, whereas the population gets a very limited amount of water.  In addition, water cistern built by Palesinians have frequently been demolished.


Among the most affected by the situation are children. With no school being in the village they are forced to walk a long way across chckpoints, always at risk of being arrested or attacked by exteremist settlers. As a result children frequently cannot attend school and many of these children have dropped out. Together with Hamed Qwasmeh from the Hebron International Resource Network HIRN, S4J visited the village, discussing the possibility to build a school in the area in an attempt to strenghen the local community's steadfastness against the expansion of settlements. S4J also met with the Jaber family, whose experiences are similar to many other Palestinians. Over the past years their house was demolished two times, despite having papers proving that the family owns the land. Their fields were vandalized by settlers and their new water cistern declared "illegal construction" so they were forced to fill it with stones.

During S4J visit the efforts to find an appropriate location for a school procect turned out to be extremely challenging.  With settlements and a military base nearby the village has frequently suffered from incursions by the Israeli military, wherefore it was important to find a location out of sight from the Israeli military. As a huge part of the village is located on a hill, the villagers are simply worried what will happen if even one child throws a stone ... 

Visiting the field

 

Destroyed water cistern


Hamed Qwasmeh with Atta Jaber


Nearby settlement


Individual cases

The case of Lina Khattab

During its visit S4J met with the family of Lina Khattab. Lina Khattab is an 18-year old young girl, student of the Bir Zeit University and member of the famous El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troup. She was arrested on 13 December 2014 in the context of a protest organized by Bir Zeit University students in front of Ofer military prison about 300 meters away from the protests at a friend's house, yet soldiers claimed that they had seen her throwing stones during the protest. Until this day Lina Khattab denies these allegations.


Nevertheless, after several hearings during which it became clear that the evidence provided was most shaky with the commander responsible for the report obviously not being present during the time of Lina's arrest, on 16 February 2015 she was sentenced to 6 months in prison, three years on probation, and a 6,000 NIS ($1,500 USD) fine. S4J is convinced that her arrest is arbitrary, aimed at deterring her and others from participatng in popular protests. It is therefore a serious violation of Article 9 of the ICCPR, holding that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law". S4J has consistently sent an urgent appeal to UN Special Procedures, which you can find here.

The case of Kahled Hussam al Sheikh

During its visit S4J also met with 15-year old Khaled Hussam al Sheikh, who on 25 December 2014 was found near the separation barrier carrying a tire, assumably with the aim to burn it. Khaled was arrested by 7 soldiers, who beat and intimidated him and after one hour of interrogation forced him to sign a confession statement in Hebrew. Khaled is a minor, yet his father, waiting outside, was prevented from attending the hearing. Later soldiers brought two other tires they had found in the area, claiming that Khaled had carried all three. The main accusation however remained "stone throwing", an offense which Khaled strongly denies and which seems indeed highly unlikely in view of the fact that he was carrying a tire.

All together Khaled had to undergo 5 hearings, each time shackeled at hand and feet from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m.  Based on the testimonies by the 7 soldiers who arrested him, Khaled was quickly convicted and held in Ofer miltary prison until 16 April 2015 instead of being transferred to a juvenile prison as it would be provided by law. To make his case worse Kahled, who suffers from anaemia, was denied medical treatment for about two months, although his family sent in all medical records. It was only on pressure of his lawyer that two months after his incarceration Khaled received a minimal medical treatment. The day of his release he had to be transferred to the hospital in Ramallah immediately, where S4J met him.

Conclusion

S4J remains extremely concerned about the impact the ongoing occupation and creeping land annexation by Israel has on the Palestinian's most basic human rights. S4J will continue to advocate at the UN on this issue and work in close collaboration with local organizations and activists in order to collect reliabe information. It will further provide strong support to human rights defenders on the ground and work towards a peaceful end of this unlawful situation, which, in the end, is destroying all sides.  If you receive further information you may end an email to info@s4j.ch.