Palestine: 2015 in Review
Ali Dawabsheh, killed along with his parents when their home was torched by Jewish extremists on July 31, 2015 in the occupied West Bank. (Credit: Irish Times)
- Approximately 170 Palestinians were killed and 15,377 were injured by Israelis in 2015.
- Israel destroyed or dismantled 539 Palestinians homes and other structures in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in 2015, displacing 742 people.
- Over the first half of 2015, the number of new settlement units completed in the occupied West Bank increased 54.8% over the same period in 2014. There are now approximately 650,000 Jewish settlers living in the occupied territories.
- There are more than 11,000 outstanding demolition orders against Palestinian structures in "Area C" of the occupied West Bank.
- There were 6,800 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel as of December 2015, including 660 held under "administrative detention" without charge or trial and 470 children.
Palestinians Killed & Injured by Israelis
- According to the United Nations, as of December 28, 170 Palestinians had been killed by Israelis in the occupied territories and Israel in 2015. Additionally, approximately 15,377 Palestinians had been injured by Israelis in 2015, approximately 14% of who were shot with live ammunition.
Excessive Use of Force by Israeli Soldiers & Police
- Over the course of 2015, Israeli soldiers and police continued to use excessive, deadly force against unarmed Palestinians demonstrating against Israel's repressive, nearly 50-year-old occupation regime, as well as Palestinians accused of attacking Israelis. Live ammunition and massive amounts of tear gas were widely used against unarmed Palestinian protesters, injuring thousands. At least one Palestinian, 54-year-old peace activist Hashem Azzeh from Hebron in the occupied West Bank, died as a result of tear gas inhalation on October 21.
In at least four incidents, Palestinians were deliberately shot dead by Israeli forces when they posed no imminent threat to life.
- Israeli forces also carried out a series of summary executions of defenseless Palestinians, as documented by Amnesty International in a report released in October, entitled "Israeli forces in Occupied Palestinian Territories must end pattern of unlawful killings." The report detailed "at least four incidents in which Palestinians were deliberately shot dead by Israeli forces when they posed no imminent threat to life, in what appear to have been extrajudicial execution."
Attacks by Jewish Extremists Against Palestinians & Their Property
- During the course of 2015, extremist Israeli settlers and others continued to attack Palestinians and their property, including destroying olive trees and other crops, as part of an effort to push them off their land.
- The most serious act of violence carried out by Jewish extremists against Palestinians in 2015 was the murder of three members of the Dawabsheh family, including an 18-month-old baby boy and his parents, whose home was set on fire on July 31 in the town of Duma in the occupied West Bank. A second child, a four-year-old boy, survived the attack.
- Extremist Israeli Jews also continued to set fire to and vandalize Palestinian mosques and churches in the occupied territories and Israel, part of a long string of hate crimes against Palestinian places of worship going back several years. In February, a mosque near Bethlehem was set on fire by Jewish settlers and in June Jewish extremists set fire to the historic Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish in northern Israel.
Ongoing Impunity for Israelis Who Attack Palestinians
- During 2015, Israeli soldiers, police, and settlers continued to enjoy virtual impunity for abusing and killing Palestinians. Only in the most high profile cases that attracted international media attention did Israeli authorities make any serious attempt to hold the perpetrators accountable, and even in those instances individuals were treated more leniently than Palestinians accused of the same crimes.
- Notable cases included:
The chance that a complaint submitted to the Israel Police by a Palestinian will lead to an effective investigation, the location of a suspect, prosecution, and ultimate conviction is just 1.9 percent.
- The lenient treatment accorded the police officers charged with assaulting 15-year-old American citizen Tariq Abu Kdheir, who was beaten nearly to death by two masked Israeli police officers during protests in occupied East Jerusalem in July 2014 in an incident that was captured on video. Only one of the officers was charged with any wrongdoing, and he was sentenced to just 45 days community service for the brutal assault.
- Ongoing delays in the case of the Israeli border police officer charged with manslaughter in the murder of unarmed 17-year-old Nadeem Nawara, who was shot with live ammunition while posing no threat to anyone at a demonstration in May 2014 in the town of Beitunia in the occupied West Bank, in an incident that was captured on video by a CNN film crew. Another unarmed teenager, 17-year-old Mohammad Mahmoud Odeh Salameh, was shot and killed with live ammunition in virtually identical circumstances in the same spot just over an hour later, however no one was ever charged in his death.
- The long delay in charging anyone in the arson murder of three members of the Dawabsheh family in the town of Duma in the West Bank in July, and the lenient treatment accorded some of the suspects, one of whom was released to house arrest at the end of December.
"Soldiers' practice of standing idly by has been documented for decades by both government agencies and human rights organizations, which have warned about its serious implications. Yet despite this, the military has thus far refrained from drafting operating procedures and standing orders that clearly and comprehensively set out the sequence of actions soldiers must perform during violent incidents involving Israeli citizens."
Palestinian Homes & Other Structures Destroyed by Israel
- According to the UN, Israel destroyed or dismantled 539 Palestinians homes and other structures in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in 2015, displacing 742 people. Most of the structures were destroyed because they were built without permission from Israel's occupation authorities, which is almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain.
- According to official Israeli statistics, there are more than 11,000 outstanding demolition orders against Palestinian structures in "Area C" of the occupied West Bank, which according to the terms of the supposedly interim Oslo Accords falls under complete Israeli military and administrative control. As noted by the UN, "Due to the lack of adequate planning and discriminatory allocation of public land, it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits [from Israel] in most of Area C."
- Additionally, 19 homes belonging to the families and neighbors of Palestinians accused of attacks against Israelis were destroyed on punitive grounds. These demolitions amount to collective punishment, which is illegal according to international law.
Palestinians Imprisoned by Israel
- According to the prisoner rights group Addameer, as of December 2015, there were 6,800 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, including 660 held under "administrative detention" without charge or trial, as well as 470 children.
Abuse of Palestinian Prisoners in Israeli Custody
- During 2015, Israeli soldiers, police, and prison authorities continued to systematically abuse and torture Palestinian prisoners. As noted in a fact sheet released in June by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI): "Torture is still used routinely and systematically against 'security' prisoners, with the state's knowledge and agreement." In May 2015, Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported that the use of torture by Israel's internal secret police, the Shin Bet, had risen sharply since the summer of 2014.
- Forms of torture include the beating of prisoners, forcing them to sit in painful and stressful positions for long periods of time, sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme heat and cold, solitary confinement, and threats to them and their families. This pattern is consistent with previous years, as documented by Amnesty International and other human rights groups.
- In July, the Israeli Knesset (parliament) passed a law allowing the force-feeding of Palestinian prisoners, despite criticism from Israeli and international medical and human rights organizations that it's a form of torture.
Private US citizens have given more than $220 million in US tax-deductible donations to settlement groups over the past five years.
- Over the course of 2015, Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian in violation of international law and official US policy continued to expand steadily. Today, there are approximately 650,000 Jewish settlers living in the occupied territories.
- In September, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reported that over the first half of 2015, the number of new settlement units completed in the occupied West Bank had increased 54.8% over the same period in 2014. It also reported a 49.6% increase in the number of settlement units starting construction. In contrast, inside Israel’s internationally recognized pre-1967 borders there was an increase of just 6.9% in completed housing construction over the same period in 2014, and a 7.9% increase in housing starts.
- In occupied East Jerusalem, settler groups backed by US funders continued their campaign to “Judaize” Palestinian areas, in particular the Old City, and the neighborhood of Silwan, which is located adjacent to the Old City, by evicting Palestinians from their homes and taking them over.
- In December, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper published a series of articles exposing how private US citizens have given more than $220 million in US tax-deductible donations to settlement groups over the past five years via US-based front groups, even though settlements violate both official US policy going back decades and international law.
Continuing Israeli Provocations Around the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount
- During 2015, messianic Jewish extremists —including senior government officials — continued their campaign to assert Jewish Israeli control over the historic Noble Sanctuary mosque complex in occupied East Jerusalem, known as the Temple Mount to Jews, with the ultimate goal of destroying the Dome of the Rock shrine and the Al Aqsa mosque and replacing them with a Jewish temple. Their ongoing provocations were one of the main causes of the recent surge in violence in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel.
- The Israeli government also continued to fund radical messianic groups like the Temple Institute, and to provide police escorts to Jewish extremists visiting the Noble Sanctuary, as well as to Jewish extremists who make an annual march through the streets of the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem chanting racist and violent slogans like “Death to Arabs” and calling for a Jewish temple to be built in the Noble Sanctuary.
- In November 2015, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper published an article titled, “Religious Public Schools Teach Children to 'Long for the Third Temple' ,” which documented how Israel’s ministry of education is working with the Temple Institute to indoctrinate Israeli schoolchildren into the messianic Temple Mount movement. The article also noted that the Israeli government funds the Temple Institute, which has received approximately $500,000 (USD) over the past five years.
- In October, Israel’s hardline Deputy Foreign Minister from Netanyahu’s Likud party and adherent of the Temple Mount movement, Tzipi Hotovely, caused controversy when she declared in an interview: “It’s my dream to see the Israeli flag flying on the Temple Mount.” Her statement contradicted repeated public claims from Netanyahu that he and his government have no intention of changing the status quo in the Noble Sanctuary, and that Palestinian claims to the contrary are baseless incitement.
Continued Israeli Restrictions on the Palestinian Economy
Palestinians are getting poorer on average for the third year in a row.
- In 2015, the Palestinian economy in the occupied territories continued to be constrained by restrictions on the movement of people and goods imposed by Israel’s occupation regime, particularly in Gaza where Israel’s illegal siege and blockade of the tiny coast strip remained in place. As a result, the Palestinian economy in the occupied territories remains deeply reliant on aid from international donors.
- At the end of September, the World Bank issued a report, which noted “Palestinians are getting poorer on average for the third year in a row.” The report predicted that gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the occupied West Bank would only be 1.8% in 2015. However, with population growth of 3%, GDP in the West Bank actually likely shrunk per capita in 2015. In Gaza, GDP growth was expected to be 6.5%, however the starting measuring point was much lower in Gaza because of the siege and blockade, and repeated Israeli military assaults that have devastated industry, agriculture, and public infrastructure.
- The World Bank report also noted that unemployment remains a major problem for the Palestinian economy, particularly in Gaza where the overall unemployment rate was 42%, in the first half of 2015, with the youth unemployment rate at more than 60%. In the West Bank, the unemployment rate dropped from 18% to 16%, but only because more Palestinian laborers were allowed to enter Israel to find work.
Increased Repression of Palestinian Citizens of Israel
- Over the course of the year, racism, repression, and incitement against Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up approximately 20% of the population, continued to grow to alarming levels.
- The wave of repressive laws passed in recent years targeting Palestinian and left-wing Jewish citizens of Israel continued, most notably with the Supreme Court’s upholding of the so-called “boycott law,” which allows for lawsuits to be filed against any individual or organization that call for boycotts of Israel or of Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise. In late December, a proposed bill targeting Israeli NGOs who receive foreign funding and document Israeli human rights abuses was passed by Netanyahu’s cabinet and sent to the Knesset for approval, in a move criticized by the US government. These recent laws are in addition to the dozens of laws already in place that privilege Jewish citizens and discriminate against non-Jewish ones.
- In March, then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for Palestinian citizens of Israel who aren’t loyal to the state to be beheaded, stating: “Those who are against us, there's nothing to be done – we need to pick up an ax and cut off his head.” The same month, in the last days of a close election campaign, Prime Minister Netanyahu issued a thinly veiled race-baiting plea to Israeli Jews on his Facebook page, warning: “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls.”
- In 2015, the Israeli government also continued its efforts to push Bedouin citizens off their traditional lands in the Negev desert (Naqab to Palestinians) in southern Israel, part of a plan to “ Judaize” the area by repopulating it with Jewish citizens. In May, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the government could remove the Bedouin residents of the town of Umm al-Hiran — who are Israeli citizens — and build a town for Jews, named Hiran, in its place.