FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2 March 2006
Al-Haq and Defence for Children International (DCI)/Palestine Section write to draw your attention to Israeli occupying forces current practice of night-time raids on Palestinian homes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). These raids subject Palestinian civilian residents of the houses, including women, children and the elderly, to confinement in one room for prolonged periods of time.
Although this unlawful practice has been used since the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000, the new home invasions reflect an intensification of this practice throughout the West Bank during the last few months. Whilst some of these incidents took place during larger Israeli military offensives, such as the recent one in Balata refugee camp in Nablus, our documentation indicates that there is no indication that residents of these homes constituted a threat to the soldiers lives.
Affidavits show that home raids are generally conducted at night-time or during the early morning hours (between midnight and 5:00 am). In the majority of cases, residents were woken up by sudden heavy banging on their doors. Those who initially refused to let the soldiers enter were forced to do so once soldiers attempted to break in through windows and doors. Most cases involve groups of up to 20 camouflaged Israeli soldiers who round up all family members and confine them regardless of their number in a single room for extended periods of time, amounting to several hours and in some instances days.
In almost every case documented, Israeli soldiers refused to inform the Palestinians in the houses of the reason for the raid. During their detention, residents are not allowed to make any noise and are denied access to other parts of their homes, except the bathroom, and sometimes the kitchen, whilst soldiers roamed freely throughout the house. In many cases, affidavits indicate that victims of this practice were kept under constant surveillance and at gunpoint throughout the entire period of their detention. This keeps most residents, particularly children, in a constant state of extreme fear and anxiety and causes them to scream and lose sleep. In some cases involving longer periods of confinement, a designated person was allowed to bring food from the kitchen to the rest of the family. However, there was at least one case where residents were prohibited from getting powder milk for their baby when their supply ran out on the second day of their confinement.
In many of these cases, family members and others, who were unaware of the presence of the soldiers in the house and had coincidently arrived to visit, were forced into the homes by the Israeli soldiers. Such visitors were subsequently confined in the same room holding the other captives, thereby exacerbating the already cramped conditions.
Prior to their departure, the soldiers consistently destroyed household property such as furniture, windows and floor tiles. More seriously, in a number of cases reported from the field, homes taken over by the Israeli forces were used to carry out military activities prohibited under international law, including sniper attacks targeting unarmed Palestinian civilians in the vicinity. Even in the event that such measures are taken for security reasons, Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War stipulates that, as protected persons, civilians are entitled in all circumstances to respect for their persons and their honour. In addition, they must be "humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof."
International humanitarian law prohibits attacks against the civilian population and civilian objects. Parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants, and between civilian objects and military objectives, and direct their operations only against the latter. Article 58 of Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, reflective of customary international law, provides that Israel must also endeavour to remove individual civilians and civilian objects under its control from the vicinity of military objectives; and take the other necessary precautions to protect the civilian population against the dangers resulting from military operations.
Israels failure to protect the Palestinian civilian population during these operations is a further indication of its flagrant disregard of its legal obligations as the Occupying Power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Al-Haq and DCI/Palestine Section urge those states who are both High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions and UN member states, to act in accordance with their international legal obligations, and exert substantial and immediate pressure upon Israel to put an end to the above mentioned practice. At the very minimum, Israeli authorities must undertake thorough, impartial, and effective official investigations into this widespread practice by its military forces, in order to punish offenders and take effective measures to prevent the committing of similar violations in the future. For more information, please feel free to contact Al-Haqs Monitoring and Documentation Unit.
Acting General Director
George Abu Al Zulof