FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
26 June 2007
As a Palestinian organisation dedicated to the protection and promotion of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Al-Haq would like to raise its serious concern regarding the ongoing use by Israeli occupying forces of Palestinian homes and villages in the West Bank to carry out military training exercises. Over the course of the last four months, Al-Haq has documented a number of incidents in different areas in the West Bank, the facts of which are summarised below. The number and nature of the incidents indicates that these are not isolated occurrences, but represent a concerted and prevalent practice on the part of the Israeli military. Beyond the legal implications of such practices, the use of the OPT as a training field for the Israeli occupying forces indicates a strong disregard for the integrity of the OPT and the Palestinian civilian population.
Summary of Facts
Al-Haq has documented that throughout March 2007, the Israeli occupying forces carried out four military training exercises in the village of Beit Lid in the Toulkarem area. The military manoeuvres usually lasted from approximately 2:00 am to 7:00 am and involved 400-500 Israeli soldiers entering the village on foot in groups of about 15-20. The exercises included training with human-shaped cardboard cut-outs, and simulations of evacuation and transfer of injured persons. To date, the soldiers have not entered any houses in Beit Lid, except an abandoned house in the middle of the village, or attacked any of the villagers.
The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz has reported on incidents similar to those Al-Haq has documented in the villages of Beit Lid and Safarin, both in the Toulkarem area, in February 2007. They obtained explicit confirmation from an Israeli army spokesman that a training operation had been carried out in these villages. The spokesman claimed:
"The exercise and its location were authorised by all the relevant persons. There was no abuse of the population. No roads were closed and there was no disturbance to the people in their homes. Overall, there was no contact with the population and everything was done according to regulations and orders."
However, an Israeli human rights non-governmental organisation, Yesh Din, collected the testimony of an Israeli reserve soldier taking part in one of these battle simulation exercises who expressed dismay at the nature of the exercise and the way it was carried out. The reservist complained of vague rules of engagement and lack of instructions on how to interact with civilians. He also referred to the exercise as unethical and amounting to harassment of civilians.
Al-Haq has also recently gathered information indicating a trend of the use of private Palestinian homes in villages in the Salfit area for the purposes of Israeli military training manoeuvres. In one of the incidents documented by Al-Haq, in the early morning of 25 May 2007, a group of approximately 18 Israeli soldiers entered the house of 'Abir Wasef Ahmad, where she was staying with her four children, her sister and her sister's two children, in the village of Kufr al-Dik, in the Salfit area. As soon as the soldiers entered the house, they confiscated 'Abir's mobile phone and disconnected her landline. The soldiers confined 'Abir, her sister and their children to the ground floor of the house while they took over the first floor. 'Abir had called her brother before the soldiers entered her house to alert him of their presence outside her home. He therefore phoned the Palestinian-Israeli security liaison office, which confirmed that the soldiers' presence in 'Abir's house was part of a military mission. In the morning, the soldiers allowed 'Abir to take the children and go to her neighbour's house in order to get them ready for school. During this time, Mr. Abu-Haron, working for a Palestinian security force in the city of Ramallah, phoned 'Abir and informed her that the soldiers had also occupied other houses as part of a military training exercise. She returned to her home with her mother, sister, aunt, and two uncles, where they remained on the ground floor of the house while the soldiers continued to occupy the upper floor. When 'Abir went upstairs to get some mattresses, she noticed that the soldiers had dismantled the windows of the boys' room. At 11:30 pm, three Humvee vehicles, one military jeep and an armoured personal carrier arrived to pick up the soldiers.
Pursuant to its occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, Israel is bound to abide by the principles of international humanitarian law in the OPT. Under international humanitarian law, the Palestinian population of the OPT are regarded as protected persons. Article 4(1) of the Fourth Geneva Convention defines protected persons as, "those who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals." Israel’s actions in the OPT are further bound by international human rights law, which is applicable also in times of armed conflict and occupation.
Accordingly, Israel should respect the right of Palestinians to enjoy their home and family life free of arbitrary interference, as enshrined in both international humanitarian and human rights law. Article 46 of the Hague Regulations of 1907, declaratory of customary international law, establishes that "[f]amily honour and rights, the lives of persons, and private property … must be respected. Private property cannot be confiscated." Similar provisions are included in Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that protected individuals are entitled "to respect for their persons, honour, [and] their family rights." While Article 27 does not specifically mention arbitrary interference in the homes of protected persons, the authoritative ICRC commentary to the Fourth Geneva Convention clarifies that "[t]he family dwelling and home are therefore protected; they cannot be the object of arbitrary interference."
Protection for Palestinian civilians affected by the training exercises of the Israeli occupying forces can also be found in international human rights law. Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights notably states that "[n]o one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence". Article 17(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Israel is a party, also protects individuals against "arbitrary or unlawful interference with [their] privacy, family and home."
Furthermore, the use of civilian homes for military training exercises as described above violates provisions in international humanitarian law protecting private property. Article 52 of the Hague Regulations states that "[r]equisitions in kind and services shall not be demanded from municipalities or inhabitants except for the needs of the army of occupation." This article establishes a stringent test for allowing requisitions, which military training exercises do not pass. Al-Haq's investigations confirm that the requisition of 'Abir Wasef Ahmad's house was part of a planned military exercise and as such cannot be considered a necessity for the Israeli occupying forces. Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention further protects private property against unwarranted destruction, "except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations." When the Israeli soldiers dismantled the windows of one of the rooms in 'Abir Wasef Ahmad's home, they did so as part of a military training exercise and not out of absolute necessity during a military operation. Such actions can therefore not be justified under international humanitarian law and as such would call for compensation.
In light of the clear violations of the rights of the residents of Beit Lid and Kufr al-Dik as a result of the unlawful actions of the Israeli occupying forces, Al-Haq reminds the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention of their obligation under Article 1 to ensure respect for the provisions of that convention. The international community should take appropriate measures to ensure that the Israeli authorities cease these unlawful training exercises in civilian Palestinian areas and that the rights of the Palestinian civilian population, as enshrined in the relevant principles and provisions of international law outlined above, are protected at all times. Al-Haq calls on the international community to fulfil its responsibility to uphold international law, stressing that allowing occurrences such as those described above to go unchecked contributes to an atmosphere of impunity, and weakens the credibility of international law as a means of protection for Palestinian civilians.