By Malina Gepp / GICJ

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Introduction

Palestinians have been facing continuous widespread and systematic attacks against every aspect of life. For decades, Israel has oppressed the Palestinian population, in flagrant violation of international law, and in plain sight for all States to see. Yet, despite numerous appeals to all relevant international bodies, sadly, the status quo remains. It seems as though the politically powerful countries are more concerned with their rank in the political hierarchy than with the human rights of innocent civilians. Considering that most of these western nations are also vigorous defenders of human rights at several UN bodies, such truth is hard to accept. However, we have not forgotten the Palestinian people. Their human rights must be respected at all times, regardless of the circumstances. In this report, Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) highlights the violations of international law by Israeli authorities as well as their citizens, perpetrated in October 2020, in order to demonstrate Israel’s persistence with regard to the oppression and abuse of Palestinians and to reiterate our call for urgent action among the international community.

Palestinian Prisoners in Israeli Prisons

Palestinians are often put in administrative detention for a prolonged time, despite this being illegal under international law. This measure is extensively and routinely utilized by the Israeli authorities. Detainees are incarcerated without trial or charge and although the detention orders are formally reviewed, the prisoners cannot prepare a defense against undisclosed allegations. The majority of orders are therefore upheld by the courts. In these circumstances, such detention can be said to amount to arbitrary detention, which is prohibited under article 9(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Israel is a State party.

One of these prisoners is Maher al-Akhras, who commenced a hunger strike in protest of his administrative detention when he got arrested with no formal charges against him on the 27th of July of this year. He has been hunger striking for over 90 days now. His wife Taghreed, who is hunger striking in solidarity with him, has said that he is currently in hospital, suffering from heart pain and convulsions, and occasionally slips into a coma, as his condition is so critical at this point. On the 25th of October, al-Akhras’ kids announced they will join their parents in the hunger strike, in protest of being denied the right to see their father.

On the 13th of October, the PA has warned the Israeli authorities of the critical condition of Maher al-Akhras, at the time of writing without success. An Israeli Physicians for Human Rights volunteer doctor visited him on the 16th of October and noted that although he is generally lucid, he is also periodically confused, cannot move his legs, stand or change position in bed and his vision and hearing are rapidly deteriorating. He also complains about severe chest pains. According to international medical consensus, he may die any day. He distrusts the Kaplan hospital, where he is currently held and wishes not to be treated by its staff, even if he loses consciousness. According to current Israeli legislation, medical staff is allowed to force-feed a person by hunger strike, which is contrary and medical ethics.  Above all, the inflicting of severe physical pain or suffering by a public official, with the purpose of punishing or intimidating the person, which such force-feeding in this case would present, amounts to torture as enumerated in article 1 of the Convention against Torture (to which Israel is a State party) and is thus prohibited under the Convention.

To gather attention for the cause, a mural has been erected and several activists and human rights organizations in the West Bank and Gaza have been showing solidarity and demanding his immediate release. Moreover, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Palestine and Irish Lawmaker Pat Sheehan called for the immediate and unconditional release of al-Akhras on 24 and 25 October respectively.

On the 30th of October 2020, the date which marks his 96th day of hunger strike in protest of his administrative detention, Maher al-Akhras still has not been released from the Israeli prison. 


Israeli Military Attacks on Civilians and Civilian Infrastructure

Moreover, on the 26th of October among the 13 detained was Nidal Abu Ahour, who suffers from cancer and kidney failure and has just been released from prison in July due to the serious deterioration of his health. The charges against him are unclear.Every day dozens of Palestinians are detained by the occupation forces and placed in administrative detention without any clear charges against them. Among these are regularly children and teenagers, often as young as 12-years-old. The occupation forces carry out nightly raids in villages and refugee camps and take with them whomever they perceive as a threat of some kind. During these raids, the military often uses live bullets and thereby injures people present in the area, including minors. For example, on the 8th of October among the 14 people detained were two teens, one of whom suffered injuries to his head due to the military gunfire. On the 20th and 21st of October, among the 23 people detained by Israeli forces were three boys, one of them just 13-years old. To learn more about child prisoners, read our urgent appeal to release child prisoner and activist Ahed Tamimi

When clashes erupt between Palestinian civilians and the Israeli military, the Israeli forces often resort to the use of tear gas to disperse the Palestinians. Many Palestinians are left suffocating due to the tear gas, such as in the Beit Ummar town near Hebron on the 5th of October, and at a student protest on the 11th of October, near the Israeli Gishory factories that were illegally built on Palestinian land. During the clashes in Beit Ummar, a 16-year-old boy was shot and injured in the foot with a live bullet. The army also used tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber-coated bullets to disperse farmers in Burqa, east of Ramallah. The attack happened on the 16th of October, when the military suddenly arrived and targeted farmers during their olive harvest. A similar attack happened on the 17th of October, when the Israeli Navy suddenly opened fire against Palestinian fishermen fishing three nautical miles into the sea around Gaza.  Five Palestinians were injured on the 23rd of October, when Israeli forces attacked dozens of activists with rubber-coated rounds and teargas in Kafr Qaddum.

On October 5th, 28-year-old Samir Hamidi was shot and killed by Israeli forces at the Ennab checkpoint east of Tulkarem city. The Israeli media claims Hamidi was shot by the army because he was hurling Molotov cocktails at the Israeli forces near the nearby illegal settlement of Einav. Palestinian media have not confirmed this.

An Israeli warplane fired a missile at a target in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, on the 6th of October, causing material damage to civilian infrastructure, although no civilians were harmed. This came as a response to the alleged firing of a makeshift rocket which is said to have been fired from Gaza and fallen inside the Israeli side of the border, causing no damages or injuries. Just two weeks later, on the 21st of October Israeli Warplanes bombed agricultural land to the south and center of the Gaza strip late at night, causing no casualties but heavy damage to civilian property. Israel claims the attack came as a response to a rocket fired from Gaza, which did not cause any damage or injury. Two more sites in Gaza were stroked by Israeli fighter jets on the 23rd of October. One target was a site in Nuseirat refugee camp, northeast of Deir al-Balah city. The other was a plot of farmland east of Khan Younes city. Material damage was caused but no human casualties have been reported. Again, Israeli claims that the attacks came in retaliation to two rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel.

The principle of distinction between civilian objects and military objectives is a norm of customary international law. Similarly, under customary international law civilians are protected against attacks unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities. Therefore, targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure is a clearly established violation of the law of armed conflict, regardless of the circumstances.

Nazmi Abu Bakr is accused of murdering an Israeli soldier by allegedly dropping a brick on his head. He was charged with murder this June, but he fully denies any guilt. The Israeli High Court denied the army’s request to demolish his family home, as his wife and children were not involved in any acts. However, as a form of retribution, the Israeli military then planned to pour concrete into Abu Bakr’s bedroom, permanently sealing access to that part of his house. Instead, on 21 October, the Israeli army sealed off 40 of the 70 square meters of his house with a special material that is easily flammable and can cause cancer, rendering the entire house unlivable for him and his family.

At just 18 years old, Amer Abdul-Rahim Snobar was brutally beaten to death by Israeli soldiers on the evening of the 25th of October, when the boy drove down the main Ramallah-Nablus road in his car. After no wrong-doing on his part, the Israeli soldiers chased him while firing several live rounds at his car. They then pulled him out of the car and repeatedly brutally assaulted him with the butts of their rifles, causing him to suffer serious wounds on his neck and head.

The soldiers did not attempt to provide aid or bring him to a nearby medical centre. Instead, Palestinian medics were called to the scene by eyewitness and provided vital first aid before loading him onto the ambulance and bringing him to a nearby hospital. By the time they arrived at the medical centre, it was already too late and the teenager had succumbed to his injuries.

A statement by the Israeli military claims the boy tried to escape from the army forces and thereby fell, causing the injury to his head. However, Dr. Ahmad al-Botwati, head of the Ramallah Medical Complex confirmed that Snobar died due to the serious wounds on his neck, which resulted from heavy beatings. UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov immediately called for an independent investigation into the incident, due to the contradictory claims concerning the events leading up to his death.

Finally, the Israeli military has allegedly been recruiting former intelligence officers from Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, to spy on Palestinians living in Israel under the pretext of combatting the coronavirus.

Unemployment and Relief Work

According to the most recent numbers (October 2020), the unemployment rate in Gaza has risen to a shocking 70%, both due to Israel’s ongoing blockade and due to the coronavirus and the resultant lockdowns which caused many people to lose their job. In total, 140’000 people have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus outbreak, which has meant a loss of $40 million to the economy in the strip. The situation will likely take a while to recover, as only one-fourth of the factories in the enclave have reopened. To make matters worse, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) announced it urgently needs $130 million to cover the budget deficit for this year in order to help UNRWA continue offering basic health, education, and relief services to Palestinian refugees.

Settler Attacks

Jews living in illegal settlements continuously attack Palestinians living and working in the areas around them. Such settlements present a transfer of the population and are thus prohibited not only under the Fourth Geneva Convention, but under customary international law. Moreover, the land is inaccessible to Palestinians, with Jewish-only roads blocking access to other surrounding areas as well.

In 2020, it has been reported that there has been a large increase in attacks against Palestinians. Oftentimes the settlers are under military protection while they assault the Palestinians peacefully going about their day. In one instance on the 6th of October, settlers who were under Israeli military protection assaulted Palestinian shepherds to the east of Yatta town. No injuries were reported.

In another instance, heavy machinery was used to raze plots of land in the village of Urif, south of Nablus on the 18th of October. Israeli soldiers were standing by, providing protection to the Jewish settlers who were razing the land. On the 14th of October, blackouts in the area south of Nablus were caused by settlers as they cut wooden electric poles with chainsaws.

Settlers don’t shy away from harming women or children, such as on the 9th of October, when a one-year-old Palestinian boy was injured by Jewish settlers throwing stones at the car of his family while driving by. Moreover, an elderly woman who was previously banned from the Al-Aqsa Mosque and therefore performed her prayers on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem was harassed by Jewish fanatics on the 10th of October. The restrictions on the Al-Aqsa Mosque have been intensified since July 2017, as a response to a deadly shoot-out at the Mosque. See GICJ’s report here.

In an attempt to silence Palestinian voices, the freedom of  the press was seriously infringed upon on October 19th, when a media team was brutally attacked in the settlement of Yakir, north of Salfit. WAFA news agency attempted to report on settler’s encroachment on a plot of Palestinian land on which settlers had built a swimming pool, but their coverage was hampered due to the attack.

According to the UN OCHA, the olive oil industry supports the livelihoods of more than 100’000 families and accounts for a quarter of the gross agricultural income of Palestine. Furthermore,

olive trees have a special meaning for Palestinians, as they represent the Palestinian cause and resistance towards the Israeli oppression, and are a symbol to remind them of their roots. The numerous reports about attacks on farmers and their land prove the constant threat to their livelihood and cultural heritage Palestinians face.

In the month of October, these have included attacks on farmers harvesting their olive tree crops, the burning of over 50 trees as well as dozens of olive trees who were cut down on land which is cut off by the wall. Additionally, the harvest of 90 trees has been stolen on the 22nd of October. Ahead of the olive harvest, Israeli authorities also deliberately block Palestinians from accessing their farmland. Over 60 military orders to close land, covering a total of 3 square kilometers, were issued in just the first two weeks of October.

By flooding Palestinian owned farmland with sewage and wastewater on the 20th of October, settlers left behind a particularly heavy burden for the farmers of Sebastia town to carry. The farmland is home to a large number of olive and apricot trees, meaning the farmers will incur heavy material as well as emotional losses as they might lose this year’s crop.

For more stories see also GICJ’s report on settler attacks. Or read about GICJ’s side event on settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories here.

Demolition of Buildings

On the 9th of October, Israeli forces confiscated chairs and tables of the classrooms of Ras al-Tin elementary school, in preparation for the planned demolition of the school. The authorities denied a special request to keep the school standing, despite its crucial purpose. The school was co-financed by France, Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Ireland, Spain, the UK, and Sweden. If it is demolished, the kids in the area will have no school in which they can enjoy their basic human right to education. In another attack on community facilities on October 27th, bulldozers, accompanied by the Israeli military, destroyed a Palestinian owned nursery in al-Samou under the pretext that it was situated too close to the nearby bypass road which is heavily frequented by Israeli settlers. The nursery was demolished in disregard of the owner’s license which he obtained from the Palestinian Agriculture Ministry.

Numerous large-scale demolitions of buildings took place in the West Bank between 18 and 22 October. Occupation forces raided several villages and either handed out stop-work orders or proceeded to demolish the buildings right away, claiming that they were built without the required permit. One particularly shocking example is that of Silwan, East Jerusalem, where 13 inhabited houses received demolition notices, although the houses had been built over ten years ago. The inhabitants of these buildings are mainly women and children, who will be left without a roof over their head.

The below pictures show an example of such a demolition. The Israeli army shows up late at night or very early in the morning and demolishes the family homes. This comes under various pretexts, mostly based upon claims that the house was built without the relevant permit, which is extremely hard to obtain. This is because the Israeli authorities aim to clear large areas of the OPT, so that colonial settlements for Jews can be built. The houses are demolished within a few hours, leaving the families residing in it only a few minutes to grab their most important belongings. No regard is given to the fact that families with children live in the house. 

The recent weeks have shown a spike in demolition orders being served and demolitions being carried out, which is why, on the 27th of October, Nickolay Mladenov, UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East expressed his great concern over the situation. He reported that on 14 and 15 October 2020 some 5’000 settlement housing units had been advanced by the Israeli authorities. The resumption of this major settlement activity is of particular concern following the 8-month break of settlement advancements in Area C. Just the next day, on the 28th of October, another 31 settlement units got approved in Hebron.

Peace and Justice Developments

The Palestinian National Party for Independents (NPI) announced on the 22nd of October that, along with other organizations, they initiated a lawsuit at a Palestinian Court against the British Government. The NPI wants to sue the British Government for its responsibility for the suffering of the Palestinian people, and its responsibility for the aftermath of the implementation of the Balfour Declaration (1917). Whether the British Government will respond is still unclear, as it enjoys State immunity from prosecution in other jurisdictions. To read more about the Balfour Declaration click here.

On the 29th of October, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sent an urgent letter to UNSG to ask for urgent consultation in coordination with the Middle East Quartet and the UNSC on convening an international conference on Middle East Peace. The conference should be on international law and UN resolutions in order to resume negotiations based on the international terms of reference. He added that the conference has to lead to an end to the Israeli occupation and help the Palestinian people achieve their freedom and independence within the State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on the 1967 borders, and resolving all final status issues, particularly the refugee’s issue, based on the UNGA Resolution 194.

GICJ Position

GICJ strongly condemns all acts of violence against, and violations of human rights of, Palestinians committed by Israel. We once again call on the international community to take action to stop these violent attacks by Israeli authorities against the Palestinian people and to put pressure on Israel to end the occupation of Palestinian territories. GICJ is concerned about the innocent victims of the attacks both by the Israeli forces, as well as Jewish settlers and calls to bring those responsible to justice. We urge all relevant actors to obey international humanitarian and human rights law, and the Israeli authorities to cease all illegal settlement activities, including the altering of the de facto border and the demolition of Palestinian homes for the building of new settlements. Palestinians have a right to live in dignity and peace, and this should be promoted by all States. Human rights apply to all, not just the politically powerful parties.

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