Israeli Violations of Human Rights in the Occupied Territories Continue in 1998: A Dismal Record
The year 1998 marked Israel's fiftieth jubilee anniversary, the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe), and the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a testimony to humanity following a war and atrocities that encompassed much of the globe.
The year 1998 also saw the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the peace process which sought to resolve the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. Towards the end of the year, the Wye River Memorandum was signed (October 23, 1998), after almost two years of public disagreements between the negotiating parties. The striking characteristic of the memorandum is security: the language of the agreement, in general, and the security arrangements, in particular, further consolidated the preponderance of security concerns and political considerations over human rights in the Oslo process.
Five years after the signing of the Declaration of Principles in Washington, D.C., on September 13, 1993, human-rights violations remain a constant feature of life for the Palestinians in the occupied territories. Indeed, in some areas, there has even been a deterioration of the situation. Since the beginning of the Oslo Accords, there has been a marked increase in the demolition of Palestinian homes. In the last five years, Israel has, furthermore, accelerated large-scale land confiscation and settlement activity with a view to creating facts on the ground before the final-status negotiations. A blatant violation of human rights, collective punishment in the form of closures and super-closures continue to be imposed, sometimes preventing over 50,000 Palestinian laborers from getting to their places of work in Israel.
In 1998, these policies were subject to scrutiny by U.N. institutions, including human-rights treaty bodies. In its report of August 18, 1998, the Human Rights Committee expressed concern over the demolition of homes, the use of torture and the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces. The U.N. Committee against Torture (CAT) rejected Israel's claim that it had special security obligations that should permit the use of torture and found Israel's application of "moderate physical pressure" to be in violation of the Convention. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) stated the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, were illegal.

Killings and Injuries - Violating the Right to Life

Israeli soldiers or extremist Jewish settlers killed 39 Palestinians during 1998. These deaths were caused either by shooting, stabbings, torture during interrogation, delays at checkpoints, refusal to provide necessary treatment to detainees or denial to Israeli ambulances access into Palestinian territories within the boundaries of East Jerusalem.

House Demolitions

The Israeli authorities continued their policy of house demolitions despite the many condemnation campaigns organized by Palestinian local human-rights organizations (HROs) and Israeli peace groups. In 1998, at least 163 houses, among which figure some tents and wooden shacks, were demolished in various districts of the West Bank. The total number of houses demolished by the Israeli authorities since the signing of Oslo until the end of 1998 comes to 702.
The Israeli government continues with its policy of house demolitions in Arab Jerusalem and the areas surrounding settlements and bypass roads. The Israeli authorities ordered the evacuation of 35 Jahalin Bedouin families on February 16, 1998, from their dwellings near the Jewish settlement of Ma'ale Adumim. Bedouin dwellings were attacked several times to force them to leave the area after the demolition of their tents and shacks. On February 12, 1998, the High Court issued a precautionary order against the evacuation of 430 Bedouins, including 150 children, from the area near Ma'ale Adumim.


The Israeli government attempts to strengthen its grip over the occupied territories by seizing land, expanding settlements or establishing new ones. It is difficult sometimes to determine the exact land area confiscated, due simply to Israeli unwillingness to provide accurate data. However, after the signature of the Wye River Memorandum, land confiscation and settlement activities increased significantly in the occupied West Bank.
In 1998, the Israeli government submitted detailed plans for 14 projects to expand already existing settlements. Of these, 8 have already been completed at the expense of 8,460 dunums of Palestinian land. Expansions led to the establishment of 9,000 new housing units. In the same period, a total of 11 new settlement sites were established, 5 of which are in the area surrounding Nablus, 3 near Ramallah, 1 near Jenin, 1 near Hebron and the last one near Bethlehem. Three new industrial zones were approved, involving the confiscation of some 3,500 dunums. A further 2,593 dunums were confiscated for a variety of Israeli projects, ranging from gas stations to a commercial center. The government also announced its approval of 29 bypass roads to cut through Palestinian land throughout the occupied territories.

Bypass Roads

Following the signing of the Wye River Memorandum, large-scale plans to construct bypass roads on West Bank land began to be implemented. These roads are intended to link the Israeli settlements of the occupied territories "by-passing" Arab villages and neighborhoods. The Israeli government implemented 18 road-construction projects, using its prerogative to seize land "for military purposes." The area of land seized for these roads is 7,879 dunums. Research shows that the percentage of settlers in the West Bank and Gaza has risen to 12.4 percent of the total Palestinian population, i.e., 169,339 settlers, of whom 163,173 live in the West Bank and 6,166 live in the Gaza Strip. The number of settlers in Jerusalem and its outskirts has risen to 180,000.
During 1998, Jewish settlers and Israeli soldiers uprooted and burnt around 16,780 trees, most of which were olive trees. Three thousand two hundred of them were uprooted and burnt by the settlers and 13,580 by the Israeli army.
The Israeli authorities burnt land by using toxic pesticides to kill plants and trees on thousands of dunums of Palestinian land. Besides being a blatant violation of international law and human-rights principles, these actions inflicted severe damage on the environment and Palestinian lands and properties, which represent the main source of income for hundreds of Palestinian families.


Israeli measures against occupied Arab Jerusalem continue in order to expel Palestinians from Jerusalem and to replace them with Jewish inhabitants. The policy applied includes confiscation of ID cards, removal of residency rights, an unjust tax and social benefit system, denial of building permits, and the demolition of houses. In 1998, the Israeli authorities demolished 43 Palestinian houses in Jerusalem. The purpose of this policy is to secure territorial and demographic control of the city and to formalize the Israeli occupation.
As part of its official policy to Judaize the eastern side of Jerusalem, the Israeli municipality began digging a long tunnel linking West Jerusalem with one of the biggest Jewish settlements, Ma'ale Adumim, south of Arab East Jerusalem. An estimated $20 million have been allocated for the completion of this project. The Israeli authorities have already confiscated more than 4,000 dunums of land from nearby villages.


In 1998, settlers and Israeli forces continued their violations against the 140,000 Palestinian residents of the city of Hebron. Armed Jewish settlers have been terrorizing Hebronites: 448 assaults by soldiers and settlers are said to have taken place throughout the year, of which 13 were directed at schools and 6 at places of worship. Ten Palestinians were shot dead in Hebron; 414 were injured and 243 detained. Twenty-one homes were demolished. Curfews and closures have been imposed as a measure of collective punishment, without the least consideration of the residents' basic needs and rights, such as access to medical treatment, water, food and education. In their policy of collective punishment, the Israeli authorities imposed 18 such measures, of which 5 were blockades; 5 were curfews on the southern side of the city, over a period of 51 days; and 8 were closures on parts of the city. Schools were closed, hospitals in the city suffered from a lack of medicaments and water, and had to function with only 50 percent of their usual work force, ambulances were required to obtain special permits for the transfer of emergency cases, and pregnant women have often been forced to travel by foot across the mountains to reach hospitals so as to deliver their babies.


The year 1998 ended with 2,200 Palestinian political prisoners still in Israeli jails, of whom 97 are administrative detainees still incarcerated in 12 Israeli prisons, and 130 are from 8 other Arab countries (Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Sudan and Algeria). Despite the bilateral agreements that stipulated the release of political prisoners, Israel continues to hold them in custody. The Wye Memorandum provided for the release of 750 prisoners in three stages, but only 100 among the first 250 prisoners released were political prisoners. An estimated 200 detainees have been in these prisons for longer than 10 years, 10 of whom have served more than 20 years. By the end of 1998, there were eight women detainees. These prisoners have complained about not being held separately from common-law prisoners and have requested better medical treatment. There are currently approximately 350 detainees suffering from different diseases, and who are in urgent need of intensive medical care. Seventy prisoners are in need of surgery.


On Sunday, January 11, 1998, in an exceptional hearing with a panel of nine judges, in a five to four vote, the Israeli High Court again postponed its decision to ban the use of torture. The Court heard the case of Abdel Rahman Ismail, who has been held and interrogated since November 13, 1997. They refused to give a temporary injunction against the use of torture during his ongoing interrogation and decided to rule later on the general use of torture.
Lawyers stated that hooding, shackling in painful positions on a very small slanted stool, sleep deprivation and constant blaring music for periods of up to five days constituted torture, forbidden by international law. In December 1997, the Israeli intelligence services had admitted to routinely using these methods during interrogations, to extract confessions.

Violation of the Right to Freedom of Expression and Opinion

Many Palestinian journalists have been prevented from carrying out their work, while others have been prevented from moving freely. In many cases, their equipment has been confiscated or broken. Some have been shot. At least 18 reporters are known to have been injured in attacks by Israeli security forces in 1998.