Ehud Olmert became Prime Minister in April having exercised the powers of the office from January when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a severe stroke. Ahead of the March legislative elections, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced his intention to implement unilaterally a "convergence" plan, under which Israel would annex Palestinian land west of the 700-km fence/wall being built by Israel in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and retain control of the Jordan Valley and the West Bank border with Jordan. According to this plan, Israel would annex some 12 per cent of the occupied West Bank, including the locations of all the main Israeli settlements, where more than 80 per cent of Israeli settlers reside.
Relations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority (PA) deteriorated after the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) won the parliamentary elections in the Occupied Territories in January. The Israeli government had no official relations with the Hamas administration, although it maintained relations with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party.
In the 34-day war which broke out on 12 July, after Hizbullah's military wing crossed into Israel and attacked an Israeli patrol, killing three Israeli soldiers and capturing two others. Israeli forces carried out air and artillery bombardments, killing nearly 1,200 people in Lebanon, including hundreds of children. Israeli forces also destroyed tens of thousands of homes and commercial properties, mostly in south Lebanon and in the suburbs of Beirut; and targeted and damaged main roads and bridges throughout the country. Hizbullah missiles fired into Israel caused the deaths of 43 civilians and damaged hundreds of buildings.
In the course of the conflict Israeli forces committed serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including war crimes. In particular, Israeli forces carried out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on a large scale. Israeli forces also appear to have carried out direct attacks on civilian infrastructure intended to inflict a form of collective punishment on Lebanon's people, in order to induce them and the Lebanese government to turn against Hizbullah, as well as to cause harm to Hizbullah's military capability.
At least six Lebanese nationals, most of them known or suspected Hizbullah fighters, remained detained in Israeli prisons at the end of the year, while Hizbullah did not disclose the fate or condition of the two Israeli soldiers it had captured. Indirect negotiations for a prisoner exchange were reportedly ongoing between the two sides. Israel suspended access by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to the prisoners it held after Hizbullah refused to grant such access to the two Israeli soldiers.
In the final days of the war, after the terms of the ceasefire had been agreed, Israeli forces launched hundreds of thousands of cluster bombs containing up to 4 million bomblets into south Lebanon. The million or so unexploded bomblets that were left continued to kill and maim civilians long after the end of the war. Some 200 people, including tens of children, had been killed or injured by these bomblets and newly laid mines by the end of the year. Despite repeated requests, Israel did not provide detailed maps of the exact locations where its forces launched cluster bombs to the UN bodies mandated to clear unexploded ordnance.
Killings of Palestinians
Israeli forces carried out frequent air and artillery bombardments against the Gaza Strip, often into densely populated refugee camps and residential areas. Some 650 Palestinians, half of them unarmed civilians and including some 120 children, were killed by Israeli forces. This toll was a threefold increase compared with 2005. On 27 June the Israeli army launched operation "Summer Rains" following an attack two days earlier by members of Palestinian armed groups on a military post inside Israel in which two Israeli soldiers were killed and a third - Corporal Gilad Shalit - was captured. Israeli attacks escalated dramatically after the capture of Gilad Shalit, although the preceding months had also been marked by killings of Palestinians and Israeli air and artillery bombardments in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
• On 9 June, seven members of the Ghalia family - five children and their parents - were killed and some 30 other civilians were injured when Israeli forces fired several artillery shells at a beach in the north of the Gaza Strip. The beach was crowded with Palestinian families enjoying the first weekend of the school holidays. The Israeli army denied responsibility for the killings but failed to substantiate their claim.
• In the early morning of 8 November, 18 members of the Athamna family were killed and dozens of other civilians were injured when a volley of artillery shells struck a densely populated neighbourhood of Beit Hanoun, in the north of the Gaza Strip. The victims, eight of them children, were killed in their sleep or while fleeing the shelling, which lasted for around 30 minutes and during which some 12 shells landed in the area. The Israeli authorities expressed regret for the killings, saying that the houses were mistakenly struck due to a technical failure, but rejected calls for an international investigation. The attack came in the wake of a six-day Israeli army raid in Beit Hanoun code-named "Autumn Clouds", during which Israeli forces killed some 70 Palestinians, at least half of them unarmed civilians and including several children and two ambulance emergency service volunteers. The raid also injured some 200 others, including scores of children.
Most Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, although scores were also killed in the West Bank.
• Eight-year-old Akaber 'Abd al-Rahman 'Ezzat Zayed was shot dead by Israeli special forces who opened fire on the car in which she was travelling to hospital with her uncle, who was seriously injured in the attack. The incident took place on 17 March in Yamun village, near the northern West Bank town of Jenin.
• On 19 December, 14-year-old Dua'a Nasser 'Abdelkader was shot dead by Israeli soldiers as she approached the fence/wall with a friend near Fara'un, a village in the north of the West Bank.
Israeli forces continued to assassinate wanted Palestinians, killing and wounding bystanders in the process.
• Nine members of the Abu Salmiya family were killed when an Israeli F16 fighter jet bombed their home at 2.30am on 12 July. According to the Israeli army, a senior leader of Hamas' armed wing was in the house at the time of the strike but survived. However, the strike wiped out an entire family: the owner of the house, Nabil Abu Salmiya, a Hamas political leader and university lecturer; his wife Salwa; and seven of their children all aged under 18. Dozens of neighbours were also injured and several other houses were damaged in the strike.
Attacks by Palestinian armed groups
Killings of Israelis by Palestinian armed groups continued but decreased to half the previous year's figure and to the lowest level since the beginning of the intifada in 2000. In total, 21 Israeli civilians, including a child, and six soldiers were killed in Palestinian attacks in Israel and the Occupied Territories.
• Eleven Israeli civilians were killed and 68 others were injured in a suicide bomb attack claimed by the armed wing of Islamic Jihad on 17 April in Tel Aviv's old bus station.
• One of two suicide bombings, on 30 March, killed four Israeli civilians, one of them aged 16, near the entrance of the Israeli settlement of Kedumim, in the northern West Bank.
There was a significant increase in the launching of homemade "Qassam" rockets by Palestinian armed groups from the Gaza Strip into the south of Israel. In most cases these indiscriminate rockets caused no casualties, but two Israeli civilians, Fatima Slutzker and Yaakuv Yaakobov, were killed in separate rocket attacks on Sderot in November and several others were injured.
Attacks by Israeli settlers
Israeli settlers in the West Bank repeatedly attacked Palestinians and their property, as well as international peace activists and human rights defenders who sought to document their attacks on Palestinians. Some of the attacks occurred during the olive harvest season, in October and November, when Palestinian farmers attempted to go to their fields close to Israeli settlements and which Israeli settlers sought to prevent them accessing. In June the Israeli Supreme Court issued a ruling instructing the army and police to protect Palestinian farmers seeking to work their land from attacks by settlers. The incidence of such attacks decreased, but several more were carried out, some in the presence of Israeli security forces who failed to intervene.
• In the evening of 25 March a group of Israeli settlers assaulted 'Abderrahman Shinneran as he slept in his tent with his wife and three children in Susia in the southern Hebron Hills. When his brother 'Aziz went to his rescue he too was assaulted and injured.
• On 18 November, Tove Johansson, a 19-year-old Swedish human rights defender, was assaulted by Israeli settlers as she accompanied Palestinian school children through an Israeli army checkpoint near the Tel Rumeida Israeli settlement in the West Bank city of Hebron. She was struck with a broken bottle and sustained facial injuries. Israeli soldiers at a nearby checkpoint took no action to stop the attack or apprehend the perpetrators.
Impunity and the administration of justice
In December the Supreme Court rejected a discriminatory law enacted the previous year that denies Palestinian victims compensation for abuses suffered at the hands of Israeli forces. However, impunity remained widespread for Israeli soldiers and settlers responsible for unlawful killings, ill-treatment and other abuses of human rights of Palestinians and attacks against their property. Investigations and prosecutions relating to such abuses were rare and usually only occurred when the abuses were exposed by human rights organizations and the media. By contrast, the Israeli authorities took a range of measures against Palestinians suspected of direct or indirect involvement in attacks against Israelis, including measures such as assassinations, physical abuse and collective punishment that violate international law. Palestinians convicted of involvement in attacks against Israelis were usually sentenced to life imprisonment by Israeli military courts, whereas in the exceptional cases in which Israelis were convicted of killing or abusing Palestinians, Israeli courts imposed lenient sentences.
Thousands of Palestinians, including scores of children, were detained by Israeli forces. Many were arrested during Israeli army operations in the Gaza Strip. The majority of those arrested were released uncharged, but hundreds were accused of security offences. Those detained included dozens of Hamas government ministers and parliamentarians, who were arrested after Palestinian gunmen captured an Israeli soldier in June, apparently to exert pressure for the soldier's release.
Trials of Palestinians before military courts often did not meet international fair trial standards, with allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees inadequately investigated. Hundreds of Palestinians were held in administrative detention without charge or trial; more than 700 were being held at the end of the year. Family visits to some 10,000 Palestinian prisoners were severely restricted as many of their relatives were denied visiting permits.
Imprisonment of conscientious objectors
Several Israelis, both men and women, who refused to serve in the army because they opposed Israel's occupation of the Occupied Territories, were imprisoned for up to four months. They were prisoners of conscience.
• Uri Natan, aged 18, served eight consecutive prison sentences totalling five months for refusing to be drafted because of his conscientious objection to Israel's military occupation of the Occupied Territories.
Violations of economic and social rights
Israel continued to expand illegal Israeli settlements and stepped up construction of a 700-km fence/wall, 80 per cent of which runs inside the occupied West Bank, including in and around East Jerusalem. Large areas of Palestinian land were seized and utilized for this purpose. The fence/wall and more than 500 Israeli army checkpoints and blockades throughout the West Bank increasingly confined Palestinians to restricted areas and denied them freedom of movement between towns and villages within the Occupied Territories. Many Palestinians were cut off from their farmland, their main source of livelihood, or could not freely access their workplaces, education, health facilities and other services.
Further discriminatory measures were put in place to enforce the system of segregated roads and checkpoints for Israelis and Palestinians. In November the Israeli army issued an order prohibiting Israelis from using their vehicles to transport Palestinians in the West Bank, where many roads or stretches of road are prohibited to Palestinians and reserved for use by Israelis - mainly the 450,000 Israeli settlers who live in the West Bank. In the Gaza Strip, the Rafah crossing to Egypt, the only entry and exit point for the 1.5 million Palestinian residents, was kept completely or partially closed by the Israeli authorities for most of the year. The passage of goods was similarly restricted by the Israeli authorities' frequent and prolonged closures of the Karni merchandise crossing, the only one they permit.
The damaging impact of the prolonged blockades and movement restrictions was compounded by the Israeli authorities' confiscation of tax duties due to the PA - some US$50 million a month, equivalent to half of the PA's administration budget. As a result, humanitarian conditions in the Occupied Territories deteriorated to an unprecedented level, marked by a rise in extreme poverty, food aid dependency, high unemployment, malnutrition and other health problems among the Palestinian population.
The destruction of Palestinian infrastructure by Israeli forces caused long-term damage and additional humanitarian challenges. In June the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip's only power plant, which supplied electricity to half of the area's inhabitants, as well as Israel's destruction of bridges, roads, and water and sewage networks, caused the population to be without electricity for most of the day throughout the hottest months of the year and interfered with water supplies. Israeli forces also bombed and destroyed several PA ministries in the Gaza Strip and other buildings housing charities and institutions reportedly linked to Hamas. These attacks destroyed or damaged scores of residential properties, rendering hundreds of Palestinians homeless.
Other Palestinians were made homeless when Israeli forces bulldozed their houses in the West Bank, including in the East Jerusalem area, on the grounds that they had been built without licences which the Israeli authorities require but make it impossible in those areas for Palestinians to obtain. The same reason was invoked to destroy tens of homes of Israeli Arab Bedouins in unrecognized Bedouin villages in the south of Israel, which the Israeli authorities intend to uproot.
AI country reports/visits
• Israel/Occupied Territories: Briefing to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (AI Index: MDE 15/002/2006)
• Israel/Lebanon: Out of all proportion - civilians bear the brunt of the war (AI Index: MDE 02/033/2006)
• Israel/Lebanon: Israel and Hizbullah must spare civilians ? Obligations under International Humanitarian Law of the Parties to the Conflict in Israel and Lebanon (AI Index: MDE 15/070/2006)
• Israel/Lebanon: Deliberate destruction or "collateral damage"? ? Israeli attacks on civilian infrastructure (AI Index: MDE 18/007/2006)
• Israel and the Occupied Territories: Road to nowhere (AI Index: MDE 15/093/2006)
AI delegations visited Israel and the Occupied Territories in April, May, August, September, November and December. In December AI's Secretary General headed a delegation that visited Israel and the Occupied Territories and held meetings with the Israeli and PA governments. She expressed concern about the deteriorating human rights situation and urged them to take concrete measures to end impunity and address continuing human rights abuses. AI also called for investigations and reparations for victims of violations during the Hizbullah-Israel war.