New UK human rights report accuses Israel of ‘continued violations’

Document notes Jewish state a ‘robust open democracy,’ but decries ongoing ‘pressure’ on critics of Israeli policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians; also slams PA and Hamas for abuses

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Israeli security forces scuffle with American-French protester Frank Romano on September 14, 2018, during a protest against the expected demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank. (AFP/Abbas Momani)
Israeli security forces scuffle with American-French protester Frank Romano on September 14, 2018, during a protest against the expected demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

The British government on Thursday accused both Israel and the Palestinians of ongoing human rights abuses, in its annual report on the state of democracy and human rights across the globe.

According to the 76-page report, 2018 saw “continued violations by the Israeli government of international human rights and international humanitarian law in the context of Israel’s occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza, including an increase in settler violence.

While Israel’s “robust democracy” is acknowledged, the report expressed concern over “pressure” exerted on members of civil society who criticize Israeli policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

The document also expressed worries that last year’s Jewish nation-state law could “undermine” the rights of non-Jewish minorities.

At the same time, the report accused both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas of “continued human rights abuses.”

Officially entitled the “Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Annual Human Rights & Democracy Report,” the document “provides an assessment of global human rights developments in 2018 and reports on the human rights situation in the 30 human rights priority countries,” according to the British government.

Israel and the PA were placed alongside Bangladesh, Myanmar, Eritrea, Iran, Russia, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Yemen and Saudi Arabia in being accused of having questionable human rights records.

The chapter on Israel and the “Occupied Palestinian Territories,” which includes the West Bank and Gaza, stated that the “humanitarian crisis in Gaza was exacerbated by unrest linked to the ‘Great March of Return’ protests” that started in March of 2018.

A Palestinian protester running away from the border fence, as Palestinians demonstrate to mark the first anniversary of the ‘March of Return’ protests, March 30, 2019 (Jack Guez/AFP)

The report accused Palestinian demonstrators along the Gaza border of employing “violence,” and noted that 1,153 rockets and mortars were fired “indiscriminately from Gaza towards Israel.”

However, it also wrote that Israel was continuing “to impose strict movement and access restrictions” in the coastal strip. It also slammed Israel for settlement building in West Bank, tallying 7,663 housing units advanced during 2018.

“Israel continued its systematic policy of settlement expansion, a breach of international humanitarian law,” it read.

Citing figures provided by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the UK report stated that the number of “acts of violence and vandalism against Palestinians by extremist settlers in the West Bank rose” last year, reaching a five-year high.

“We continued to seek improvements in the treatment of Palestinians in Israeli detention, with a particular focus on minors, of whom 203 were detained at the end of December, the lowest monthly figure in two years,” the report continued.

A young Palestinian girl sits near an outhouse in the Palestinian village of Al Mufakara, off Route 60, in South Hebron Mountain, in the West Bank, on April 23, 2014. This area had been declared by Israel as a closed military zone, making any housing there illegal. As a result, most inhabitants here live in caves for fear of home demolitions (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

It said London had lobbied Israel to ease conditions for Palestinian detainees, especially minors.

“UK ministers and officials made repeated representations to the Israeli government about detention practices. We continued to fund projects providing legal aid to minors and capacity building to local lawyers.”

The report praised Israel for being “a robust open democracy with a vibrant civil society,” but said illiberal forces were putting pressure on those who criticize the country’s conduct in the Palestinian territories.

“This included rhetoric by politicians, pressure on foreign governments to cease funding for certain NGOs, and a reported increase in visa delays and denials for activists,” the report read.

It also echoed domestic concerns over the contentious nation-state law, which was passed by the Knesset in July to enshrine Israel’s Jewish character, and which drew criticism for downgrading Arabic from being an official language and appearing to place non-Jewish Israelis on a lower rung of civil society.

The legislation “might undermine the equality of members of minorities, in particular of Israel’s Arab Christian and Muslim community,” the report charged.

Likud MK Oren Hazan takes a selfie with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and MK David Bitan, right of Netanyahu, after the passage of the nation-state law at the Knesset on July 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Olivier Fitoussi)

“We will continue to raise our concerns with the Israeli government on instances constituting a breach of international human rights or international humanitarian law in the context of Israel’s occupation of the OPTs. We will continue to oppose human rights abuses by the PA and Hamas,” the report read.

London “will support renewed peace negotiations leading to a two-state solution, including through our project work with NGOs,” the document promised.

But it pointed a finger at both the PA and Hamas, citing a Human Rights Watch report describing severe cases of human rights violations carried out by both Palestinian groups.

“We raised our concerns with the Palestinian prime minister, who committed to a package of institutional reforms. We continued to urge the PA to respect human rights, ensure that complaints of mistreatment or arbitrary detention were properly investigated, and continue to improve the security sector’s compliance with human rights standards,” the report read.

The cover of the UK government’s first annual human rights report

Despite Ramallah’s recent accession to seven human rights conventions, the PA under President Mahmoud Abbas “continued to restrict space for civil society actors in the West Bank, as well as limit freedom of expression,” the report stated. “In Gaza, Hamas continued to exercise strict control of civil society.”

Rights for members of the LGBT community “remained restricted” in the Palestinian areas. “Same-sex sexual activity, although legal in the West Bank, remained taboo in Palestinian society. It is illegal in Gaza, carrying a ten-year prison sentence.”

At the same time, the report highlights “limited progress” regarding the rights of Palestinian women, noting “efforts to reduce discrimination.”

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