For the first time, Amnesty International has released a comprehensive review of Palestinian attacks against Israeli citizens and determined them to be "crimes against humanity under international law." The organization, which has frequently accused the Israeli army of human-rights abuses against Palestinians fighting "occupation," rejected all Palestinian excuses for these attacks against Israelis, including those targeting settlers, and said that these attacks "may also constitute war crimes."
The organization's Israel office prepared a 48-page report entitled "Without distinction: attacks on civilians by Palestinian armed groups," as part of an on-going campaign to stop the killing of both Israeli and Palestinian civilians. Amnesty representatives, lead by Maya Sanderson, chairman of the Israel branch of the organization, will present the report to President Moshe Katsav today. The report will also be given to Palestinian leaders and representatives of Palestinian armed groups, non-governmental organizations and human rights activists.
Ilan Feldman, spokesperson for Amnesty's Israel office, said, "Amnesty International has published several press releases against Palestinian attacks, and has expressed condemnation after every attack, yet this is by far the most comprehensive report... [It] analyzes certain Palestinian organizations and their crimes against humanity. That is why it is unique."
The report strongly condemns Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians, stating: "The attacks by Palestinian armed groups are widespread, systematic and in pursuit of an explicit policy to attack civilians. They therefore constitute crimes against humanity under international law," adding that the attacks may also be considered "war crimes," depending on the legal status of the Palestinian groups carrying out the attacks.
Amnesty called on Palestinian groups and individuals to immediately cease such attacks, and on the Palestinian and Israeli authorities to bring to justice people within their jurisdiction who ordered and facilitated these attacks. The organization called on the Israeli government to promise that any activity against groups or individuals who are armed and suspected of their involvement in attacks on civilians will be conducted in accordance with international legal conventions.
The Amnesty report stated that since September 2000, over 350 Israeli civilians have been killed, among them 60 children under the age of 18. The organization refuted claims by militant organizations like Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine that "under all international declarations and laws, Palestinians are entitled to defend and liberate their land by all means and to redeem their integrity." Amnesty explained that targeting civilians for whatever purpose is "contrary to fundamental principles of humanity which should apply in all circumstances at all times."
In the past Amnesty has been vocal in its criticism of Israeli violations of international human rights and humanitarian law against the Palestinian population of the occupied territories. However, Amnesty argues that "no violations by the Israeli government, no matter their scale or gravity, justify the killing of Sinai Kenan, Danielle Shefi, Chana Rogan, or any other civilians" victims of Palestinian attacks.
The report also addressed Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, saying: "The Chairman has condemned attacks on Israeli citizens in several incidents but it is not clear if his statements address attacks on civilians in all areas of Israel and the occupied territories, or just civilians within Israel."
Amnesty called for an end to terror attacks on Israeli citizens, in all areas, including the "occupied territories," and plans to launch a public relations campaign aimed at promoting opposition to terrorism among the Palestinian public. The organization hopes that by releasing its report in Gaza, it will contribute to the emerging debate in Palestinian civil society condemning attacks against civilians, and encourage Palestinians to speak out against attacks on Israeli civilians.
The report stated that while the majority of the Palestinian public opposes attacks on Israeli civilians from a humanitarian and ethical perspective, their voices are not heard above the voices of those who support terror. "Many Palestinians who support armed resistance, as well as those who support non-violent action, believe that targeting civilians is morally and/or strategically wrong... But the critics have in general not been as open or prominent in public as advocates for armed attacks who support, condone or do not criticize attacks on civilians."
"It is time to stop playing politics with people's lives and suffering," said Irene Khan, Amnesty International Secretary General. "The international community must act now to end the human rights violations against both Palestinian and Israeli civilians. Any solution for this crisis must have human rights at its heart."
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