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Civil rights organization ACRI speaks out

Civil rights organization ACRI speaks out

[Much of what you read in the following Ha'aretz article about a report released Tuesday may not be so new for active email readers. It is however the more significant since it comes from the respected Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).

Among the listed violations by the army is mentioned a horrifying example about which we didn't hear yet (later part of Reinfeld article):

>Another practice - to park an armored personnel carrier next to a >house and race its engine, sending clouds of exhaust smoke into the >house to choke the residents. The report says one such "smoking" >was captured on videotape.]

Haaretz website 22/07/2003

Rights group: Gov't undermining foundations of democracy

By Moshe Reinfeld, Haaretz Correspondent, Haaretz Service and Associated Press


Hebrew (less extensive version)

The Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) harshly criticized Israeli domestic policies, accu sing the government in a report released Tuesday of being party to a wider effort to undermine the foundations of democracy and social cohesion in Israel. In its annual report on the state of civil rights in the nation, which was published yesterday, ACR I says that while the government is not alone in being responsible for the situation, its activitie s contribute to the continuing trend, which it said is characterized by damage to the rights of the Arab minority; undermining the legal system as the guardian of democracy; extensive p rivatization that favors individual profit over social welfare; critically harm to the health, education and welfare services; damage t o job prospects and the rights of workers to campaign for better pay and pensions; and total violation of Palestinians' human rights, coupled with unprecedented physical injury to innocent Palestinian people.

The report says social rights have been so badly damaged this year that there is a real danger of t he entire welfare state collapsing. The report details repeated harm to the weakest communities in society, noting that National Insurance payments, unemployment benefits, old-age pensions, supplementary income payments, and rent aid have all been cut.

In a large section devoted to IDF soldiers and the intifada, the report harshly criticized Israeli troops for "malicious," cruel and sadistic behavior against Palestinians over the past year and, c omplained about military policy that it said bans inquiries into most deaths of Palestinians. The report by decries "unprecedented harm to innocent people, Palestinians and Israel is," during the third year of violence.

'Jews Only' Law

The report is also highly critical of attempts to legislate a law bypassing the High Court that wou ld allow the Israel Lands Authority and the Jewish Agency to allocate state lands tocommunities exclusively "Jews only." This initiativ e has for now been frozen but ACRI says the government's support for it was worrying.

ACRI also criticized the first-time use this year of a clause allowing the Interior Minister to rem ove the citizenship of anyone convicted of carrying out a terror attack. The organization believes that if the process continues, it could lead to rendering political opponents stateless. The report also specifies a series of state infrin gements of freedom of speech and of the press, including an investigation of Haaretz reporter Baruch Kra.

Palestinian attacks, Israeli violations

Covering the period between June 2002 and June 2003, the report denounces Palestinian terror attack s that killed hundreds of Israelis, but its section on the territories concentrates on alleged Israeli violations of Palestinian human righ ts, listing military behavior at roadblocks, searches of villages and assassinations of suspected P alestinian militants as areas of violations.

The group charges that most of the civil rights violations by Israeli soldiers "arise not from any operational necessity, but from hardheartedness of soldiers, who receive from above the message of utter disregard for the dignity, freedom and lives of innocent Palestinians."

In a written response, the military categorically rejected the claim. "The opposite is true," the s tatement said.

ACRI was founded in 1972 as a nonpolitical and independent body, with the goal of protecting human and civil rights in Israel and in the territories under Israeli control, according to the group's website.

Hundreds of Palestinians were killed during the year, the report notes, but only a handful of inqui ries were opened, all concerning settlers suspected of violence. ACRI complains that the military prosecutor follows a policy of refusing to investigate "deaths that occurred during warfare," a term that covers most of the fatal incidents.

The military countered that some such cases are investigated, but indictments are filed only if the re is criminal evidence against a soldier.

'Failure to prosecute soldiers for malicious behavior'

The ACRI report complains bitterly about the behavior of soldiers at West Bank roadblocks, referrin g to a report from B'Tselem, another human rights group, about a soldier who carved a Jewish star on the arm of a Palestinian.

The roadblocks, set up shortly after the violence erupted in September 2000 to keep Palestinian att ackers and bombers out of Israel, have become institutionalized centers of mistreatment of Palestin ians, and many of them have no other purpose, ACRI claims.

Besides daily humiliation, some Palestinians have died as a result of the roadblocks, the report ch arges. Some roadblocks permanently cut roads. "While a healthy person can somehow make his way across," the report says, "a pregnant woman or a sick person cannot, and an ambulance cannot cross from the other side," the report reads.

Though the military has pledged several times, including in response to an ACRI appeal to the Supre me Court, to allow urgent cases to cross roadblocks unimpeded, and a procedure for that exists, the civil rights group charges that "the pro cedures are not implemented, and in many cases, people in need of medical attention do not cross."

The military said that soldiers at roadblocks "face difficult problematic dilemmas," and violations are investigated.

The ACRI report also alleges wanton violence and harassment by Israeli soldiers south of the city o f Hebron. Soldiers randomly search houses in the middle of the night, wreaking havoc and destructio n, and sometimes they sound loud sirens.

Another practice is to park an armored personnel carrier next to a house and race its engine, sendi ng clouds of exhaust smoke into the house to choke the residents. The report says one such "smoking " was captured on videotape.

"Absence of a response from the military, and failure to prosecute soldiers for such malicious beha vior, sends a message to the soldiers in the field of ignoring or looking away from these acts, which have absolutely nothing to do with security needs," the report alleges. The military said an investigation is underway.

The report also details hardships faced by Palestinians under lengthy curfews, when they are confin ed to their homes for days and weeks at a time. ACRI lists 12 cases in which Palestinians were shot and killed by soldiers for violating curfews between July and October 2002.

The civil rights group also takes the military and the government to task for targeted killing of s uspected Palestinian militants, complaining that many innocent civilians have been killed and wounded in the operations.

During the year covered by the report, "the military assassinated 80 Palestinians. In at least 20 cases, the military accepted responsibility. In the operations during the period, 90 women, children and innocent men were killed and more than 300 innocent people were wounded," the report reads.

The military said that harm to civilians is an unfortunate but inevitable part of the fight against terrorism.

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