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March 21, 2023 3:29 pm

US State Department Report Cites ‘Significant Human Rights Issues’ in Israel


avatar by Andrew Bernard

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks in the briefing room of the State Department in Washington, US January 7, 2022. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS

The US State Department on Monday released its annual human rights country report on Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, documenting a litany of alleged human rights abuses. The nearly 70-page report includes accusations of extrajudicial killings, media censorship, torture, and unjust detention committed by the Israeli government.

The report, one of 198 that the State Department issues each year and mandated by Congress, cites both Israeli government information as well as reporting by NGOs and news organizations in recording its allegations.

It lists 11 categories of “significant…credible reports” of Israeli human rights issues ranging from “unlawful or arbitrary killings” to labor rights violations against foreign and Palestinian workers.

“The government acknowledged it used ‘exceptional measures’ during interrogation in some cases, but the Ministry of Justice refused to provide information regarding the number of such ‘necessity’ interrogations or which ‘exceptional measures’ were used,” the report’s section on allegations of torture reads. “According to [the Public Committee against Torture in Israel,] if confirmed, these measures might constitute torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment [….]”

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The report notably includes allegations related to the 2022 killing of the Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. The report repeats the conclusions of the IDF that there was a “high possibility” that Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli fire without making any conclusion. It also cites NGOs in alleging that “excessive and disproportionate force” was used against the “pallbearers” at Abu Akleh’s funeral. No mention is made in the report that Abu Akleh’s family intended for her coffin to be moved to the cemetery by car, and that the “pallbearers” had seized the coffin without permission in an attempt to parade it through the streets.

It also notes differences in policing between East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the rest of Israel.

“NGOs and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem alleged that Israeli security forces disproportionally devoted enforcement actions to Palestinian neighborhoods, particularly Issawiya and Sheikh Jarrah, with higher numbers of temporary checkpoints and raids than in West Jerusalem,” the report said.

It also recorded that of the 870 people held in administrative detention i.e. without an indictment, arrest warrant, judicial order, or finding of criminal culpability – “11 are from East Jerusalem, seven are citizens of Israel, and the remainder are Palestinians from the West Bank.”

It further notes that Israel “rarely” finds members of the security forces to have committed abuses and has taken “some steps” to punish officials who engage in human rights violations.

While the report describes the Palestinian territories as “occupied,” it does not criticize Israeli settlement construction.

The State Department’s deputy spokesman Vedant Patel, however, said on Tuesday that the United States is “extremely troubled” that the Knesset on Monday evening repealed parts of a 2005 disengagement law that forcibly evacuated settlers from four West Bank settlements as part of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and called the meausre “particularly provocative and counterproductive.

“It is all the more concerning that such a piece of legislation passed with just 31 ‘yes’ votes out of an assembly of 120 members,” Patel said. “The action also represents a clear contradiction of undertaking the Israeli government made to the United States.”

At the press conference introducing the report on Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked whether these reports have sufficient influence on US policy towards Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

“We have those tough discussions across the board with friends, adversaries, competitors alike,” Blinken said. “We’re not pulling our punches with anyone – we call things as we see them. Sometimes we do it more publicly; sometimes we do it more privately. We’re trying to determine in each instance how we hopefully can be most effective in advancing human rights and advancing human dignity.”

The report does not include human rights abuses by Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, or by the Palestinian Authority.

Among the reports issued Monday, the State Department also condemned the rampant antisemitism and Holocaust denial of the Iranian regime.

“Government officials, including the supreme leader, president, and other top officials, routinely engaged in egregious antisemitic rhetoric and Holocaust denial and distortion,” the Iran country report said. 

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