WASHINGTON — The Obama administration accused Israel of using excessive force against Palestinians during a wave of deadly violence, in an annual report that pointed to a global decline in human rights.
The annual report by the State Department into human rights abuses around the world accused Israeli forces of “excessive use of force” in the Palestinian territories, and “arbitrary arrest and associated torture and abuse, often with impunity,” by the IDF, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
According to numbers cited in the report, 149 Palestinians were killed in 2015 by Israeli security forces, but only 77 were in the course of attacking Israelis.
“There were numerous reports of the ISF (Israel security forces) killing Palestinians during riots, demonstrations, at checkpoints, and during routine operations; in some cases they did not pose a threat to life,” the report read.
The numbers clash with Israeli accounts that some two-thirds of Palestinians killed during a wave of violence beginning in October were in the midst of attempting or carrying out attacks and the rest died in clashes with security forces.
The report comes months after Secretary of State John Kerry was asked by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy and nine other US lawmakers to probe instances of what they said were possible extrajudicial killings by Israeli forces.
Leahy and his fellow signatories asked Kerry in February to look into claims of “gross violations of human rights” by Israel and Egypt, citing examples of alleged extrajudicial killings by both countries and saying it could affect aid to the countries.
On Israel, the letter asked Kerry to investigate “what may be extrajudicial killings,” citing claims by Amnesty International and other human rights groups relating to the deaths of Fadi Aloun, Sa’ad al-Atrash, Hadeel Hashlamoun and Mutaw Awisat.
According to Israel, all four were killed while in the midst of attempting to attack Israelis in Jerusalem and Hebron, though those claims are disputed.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded angrily to the letter when its existence was reported in March, defending the IDF’s actions.
“The IDF and the Israel Police do not engage in executions. Israel’s soldiers and police officers defend themselves and innocent civilians with the highest moral standards against bloodthirsty terrorists who come to murder them,” Netanyahu said in a statement on March 30. “Where is the concern for the human rights of the many Israelis who’ve been murdered and maimed by these savage terrorists? This letter should have been addressed instead to those who incite youngsters to commit cruel acts of terrorism.”
The State Department report said the biggest human rights violations in Israel were terror attacks against civilians, and “institutional and societal discrimination” against Arabs, Israelis of Ethiopian extraction, women, non-Orthodox Jews and migrants.
In the Palestinian territories, the report singled out the PA for failing “to condemn incidents of anti-Semitic expression and embraced as ‘martyrs’ individuals who died while carrying out attacks on Israeli civilians.”
Hamas, it said, was guilty of a slew of humans rights abuses in the Gaza Strip, including “security forces killing, torturing, arbitrarily detaining, and harassing opponents, including Fatah members, and other Palestinians with impunity. Terrorist organizations and militant factions in the Gaza Strip launched rocket and mortar attacks against civilian targets in Israel, and they did so at or near civilian locations in Gaza.”
The report also pointed at Israeli legislation forcing foreign government-funded NGOs to take certain measures, which critics say would target groups critical of the government.
The report condemned abuses by the Islamic State group, Boko Haram, al Shabab and the Taliban in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and several African nations where it said lack of governance, poor governance or outright repression fueled radical movements.
Both Jerusalem and Ramallah were left off a list of governments accused of pushing back “with increasing vigor and viciousness” against groups that seek to empower ordinary people and fight corruption in 2015.
The report singled out North Korea, China, Cuba, Sudan and Iran and also cited Russia, Rwanda, Congo, Venezuela, Azerbaijan, Uganda, Egypt and Vietnam for repressive steps.
“In every part of the world, we see an accelerating trend by both state and non-state actors to close the space for civil society, to stifle media and Internet freedom, to marginalize opposition voices, and, in the most extreme cases, to kill people or drive them from their homes,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday.
In Iran, the government stifled and harassed human rights groups looking into allegations of abuses in addition to stifling dissent, the report said. It also noted severe restrictions on civil liberties, including the freedoms of assembly, association, speech and religion, a lack of free and fair elections and abuse of due process and use of capital punishment.
In Egypt, the report said the government continued to apply restrictive registration laws to investigate and shut down human rights organizations, especially those linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. It said the government also imposed travel bans on human rights defenders and political activists.
The report noted the Turkish government used anti-terror laws as well as a law against insulting the president to stifle legitimate political discourse and investigative journalism, and criticized the prosecution of journalists and the driving of opposition media outlets out of business or bringing them under state control.