The Israeli authorities held more than 4,500 Palestinian prisoners, including 178 administrative detainees at the end of the year, after a temporary decrease in numbers following Palestinian and international protests. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees during arrest and interrogation was reported. Israel’s military blockade of the Gaza Strip continued to severely affect Gaza’s 1.6 million residents. In November, Israel launched an eight-day military campaign against Palestinian armed groups who fired rockets indiscriminately from Gaza into Israel; more than 160 Palestinians as well as six Israelis were killed, including many civilians. Both sides violated international humanitarian law in the conflict. The Israeli authorities continued to restrict the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, construct the fence/wall, and expand illegal Israeli settlements while failing to protect Palestinians and their property from settler violence. They also continued to demolish Palestinian homes and carry out forced evictions. The Israeli military continued to use excessive force against protesters in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT); in addition to 100 civilians killed during the November conflict in Gaza, Israeli forces killed at least 35 civilians in the OPT during the year. Palestinian citizens of Israel faced discrimination in housing and residency rights, and continued home demolitions, particularly in the Negev/Naqab region. Thousands of people seeking international protection were detained administratively under a new law implemented in June. Israeli forces responsible for the killing and injuring of Palestinian civilians and torture and other ill-treatment of detainees continued to evade accountability.
Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) did not resume. Relations worsened after Palestine was recognized as a non-member observer state by the UN General Assembly in November. In response, Israel announced settlement expansion plans and withheld customs payments due to the PA. In March, Israel withdrew its co-operation with the UN Human Rights Council after the Council established a fact-finding committee to “investigate the implications” of Israeli settlements on Palestinians in the OPT.
In July, a government-appointed committee concluded that Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank did not violate international law, despite the weight of international legal findings to the contrary, and recommended that the government formalize unauthorized settler outposts. For the first time in seven years, 14 new outposts and settlements were established, with support from the Israeli authorities.
Periodically throughout the year, Israeli military forces carried out air strikes on Gaza while Palestinian armed groups launched rocket attacks on Israel. Israel continued to fire live ammunition to enforce the land and sea “exclusion zones” inside Gaza’s perimeter and territorial waters, killing at least six civilians and injuring others. Israeli leaders publicly advocated bombing Iranian nuclear sites.
One Israeli civilian was killed by militants from Egypt in June.
The myriad restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities on the movement of Palestinians amounted to collective punishment of the population of Gaza and the West Bank, in violation of international law. Over 500 Israeli checkpoints and barriers in the West Bank, as well as the fence/wall, restricted Palestinians’ movement, particularly in East Jerusalem, part of Hebron, the Jordan Valley and areas near settlements. Palestinians were required to obtain permits from the Israeli authorities while Israelis, including settlers, enjoyed free movement in these areas. There were continued reports of harassment and abuse of Palestinians at checkpoints by Israeli personnel. Movement restrictions also impeded Palestinians’ access to medical care, water and farmland.
As Israel’s military blockade of the Gaza Strip entered its sixth year, its impact on basic infrastructure, including water, sanitation and power supplies continued to be severe. Israel continued to severely limit exports from and imports to Gaza, stifling its economy and driving the perilous underground smuggling trade from Egypt, which continued to claim the lives of those using the tunnels. More people were able to travel through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt than during previous years, despite continuing restrictions, but permits for travel to the West Bank remained rare and difficult to obtain, even for patients requiring urgent medical treatment. In September, Israel’s High Court of Justice affirmed this policy of separating Gaza from the West Bank, rejecting a petition by Gazan women seeking to study at West Bank universities.Top of page
In more than 60% of the West Bank, known as Area C, the Israeli army continued to control planning, zoning and security and regularly demolished Palestinian homes. Some 604 structures, a third of them homes, and including 36 water cisterns, were destroyed, resulting in the forced eviction of some 870 Palestinians from their homes and affecting at least 1600 others. Israeli settlers continued to attack Palestinian residents and their property with virtual impunity. Palestinian citizens of Israel, particularly those living in officially “unrecognized villages” in the Negev region, were regularly subjected to home demolitions by the Israel Land Administration (ILA) and municipal bodies.
The authorities again failed to independently investigate killings of Palestinian civilians by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza or to prosecute those responsible. Impunity continued for war crimes committed by Israeli forces during Operation “Cast Lead” in 2008-2009, and there were no indications that independent investigations would be conducted into violations committed during the November 2012 Gaza-Israel conflict. Police investigations into Israeli settler violence against Palestinians rarely led to prosecutions.
Israeli forces launched a major military operation on Gaza on 14 November, beginning with an airstrike that killed the leader of the military wing of Hamas. In the following eight days, before a ceasefire on 21 November was reached with Egyptian mediation, more than 160 Palestinians, including more than 30 children and some 70 other civilians, and six Israelis, including four civilians, were killed. Both sides committed war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law. The Israeli air force carried out bomb and missile strikes on residential areas, including strikes that were disproportionate and caused heavy civilian casualties. Other strikes damaged or destroyed civilian property, media facilities, government buildings and police stations. In most cases, Israel did not present evidence that these specific sites had been used for military purposes. The Israeli navy shelled populated coastal areas with artillery in indiscriminate attacks. The military wing of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups fired rockets and other weapons into Israel, killing civilians and damaging civilian property.
More than 320 Palestinians from the OPT were held without charge or trial in administrative detention during the year, but their numbers decreased substantially following a mass hunger strike (see under ‘Prison conditions’ below). Several Palestinians released in a 2011 prisoner exchange were re-arrested on the orders of a military committee and held for extended periods without being charged or having their previous sentences formally reinvoked.
On 17 April, some 2,000 Palestinian prisoners and detainees went on hunger strike to protest against their conditions, including the use of solitary confinement, detention without charge or trial and the denial of family visits. They ended their hunger strike on 14 May following an Egyptian-brokered deal with the Israeli authorities, according to which the Israeli authorities agreed to end the solitary confinement of 19 prisoners and lift a ban on family visits to prisoners from Gaza. Two Palestinian prisoners were still held in long-term isolation at the end of 2012, and short-term isolation continued to be used as punishment. Hassan Shuka, an administrative detainee held without charge or trial since 17 September 2010, was permitted to receive family visits only from his sisters, aged 14 and eight, at Ketziot prison in southern Israel; other family members were barred from entering Israel.
Palestinian detainees reported being tortured and otherwise ill-treated during interrogation by the Israel Security Agency (ISA), including being subjected to painful shackling or binding of the limbs, immobilization in stress positions, sleep deprivation, threats and verbal abuse. Detainees were denied access to lawyers while under interrogation for days and occasionally weeks. Detainees on prolonged hunger strikes were repeatedly denied access to independent doctors and ill-treated by Israel Prison Service (IPS) staff. The authorities failed to independently investigate allegations of torture of detainees by the ISA, fuelling a climate of impunity. Investigations were the responsibility of the Interrogee Complaints Comptroller, an ISA employee, despite a November 2010 decision by the Attorney General to place the Comptroller under the Ministry of Justice. A law exempting the Israeli police and ISA from recording interrogations of “security” detainees, almost all of whom are Palestinian, was extended, helping to perpetuate impunity for torture and other ill-treatment. Despite the filing of more than 700 complaints relating to 2001-2012, only one criminal investigation had been opened by the end of 2012.
Israeli soldiers opened fire with live ammunition on Palestinian protesters on numerous occasions in areas inside Gaza’s perimeter and routinely used excessive force against demonstrators in the West Bank, killing at least four. As local human rights groups documented, Israeli soldiers also fired tear gas canisters directly at peaceful protesters, causing serious injuries. The authorities also used excessive force against demonstrations inside Israel.
At least six Israeli citizens were sent to jail for refusing to serve in the army on grounds of conscience. One, Natan Blanc, continued to be held at the end of the year.
People seeking international protection continued to be denied access to fair refugee-determination procedures and faced arrest and detention. Thousands of asylum-seekers were imprisoned under the Anti-Infiltration Law, which was passed in January and implemented from June. In violation of international refugee law, the law empowered the authorities to automatically detain asylum-seekers alongside others crossing irregularly into Israel, for a minimum of three years and allowed indefinite detention in some cases. At the end of the year, the authorities were expanding detention capacity in the Negev desert to hold more than 11,000 people, and at least 2,400 asylum-seekers were detained, many in tents. Hundreds of asylum-seekers were deported to South Sudan without being permitted access to fair, consistent and transparent individual asylum procedures.Top of page