The State of Human Rights in Palestine

Palestine refers to the proposed State of Palestine, an initiative of a people’s movement under the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) for a separate state. Palestine is an Arab Islamic nation that occupies what is now referred to as the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It has declared its proposed capital in Jerusalem. It is a member of the League of Arab States and abides by its charter. In early 2000, a Constitution Committee began to draft a proposed constitution which defines Palestine as a parliamentary representative democracy (Constitution Committee).

In 2006, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights visited several areas in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), including Gaza, the walls built in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron, Jericho, Jordan Valley and Wallaje (UNCHR). His report revealed the appalling state of human rights violations in the OPT. The cases of gross human rights violations that were documented involved Palestinian civilians. All were perpetrated by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

In Wallaje, Palestinian homes were indiscriminately demolished rendering families homeless. Clashes with Palestinian militants led to intermittent gun battles that included civilians as collateral damage. Extrajudicial killings have also been carried out against suspected militants. The airspace over Gaza and the adjacent sea which are part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory are now under the control of the IDF (UNCHR). Israeli missiles and shells are ready to be fired up to as close as 100 meters from residences.

Israeli soldiers have also gained control of Palestinian communities. By establishing hundreds of checkpoints, the fundamental freedoms of the people were severely curtailed. Entry is allowed only through a valid identity paper and exit is generally prohibited. The entry and exit of trucks and vehicles, even those that export local produce and import needed commodities, are likewise restricted. People’s activities have to conform to rules determined by the IDF in order to be permitted. Farmers are prevented from working their lands.

In the Jordan Valley, basic social services such as water and electricity have been withdrawn by the Israeli government (UNCHR). The ban on the entry of teachers and health care workers into the communities has also left the populace devoid of health services and education. Poverty and unemployment is high in the area under the circumstances. Fear, deprivation and repression are daily experiences, the aim being to quell resistance to what is regarded by the Arabs as the occupation of their territory by Israelis (UNCHR).

These events are not altogether new, albeit it has escalated within the last few years. The Arab-Israeli conflict dates back to the 1950’s and is essentially a territorial dispute fueled by opposing political and religious beliefs (Jonah, 413). The balance of political power seems to be in favor of Israel because of its status as an established state while Palestine as a nation is still aiming for statehood. Further, the situation is complicated by the recent declaration made by the U. S. that Hamas, the incumbent and duly elected administration in Palestine since 2006, is a terrorist organization.

The need to resolve this conflict is imperative because it is taking its toll on the lives and dignity of the civilian population in Palestine. The United Nations, the U. S. , the Russian Federation and the U. K. are currently involved in the peace process but Palestinians have questioned their credibility and impartiality (UNCHR). For instance, the U. S. has been known to support Israel’s war against Palestine which included military aid and recently ending the tax funds allotted to the Palestinian Authority for public welfare.

The long history of human rights violations in the Occupied Palestine Territory, the political status of the parties involved, the complications brought about by the U. S. war against terrorism and the absence of a viable program for peace has made this subject interesting for research. Moreover, there are existing Arab human rights advocacy groups but their role in the resolution of the conflict as well as the overall advancement of human rights in Palestine has largely been overlooked.

Because of contradictory accounts among Palestinian and Israeli sources as well as the tendency for the Arab side to be overlooked, this paper will largely employ the Palestinian perspective. Human rights advocacy groups as grassroots organizations responding to pertinent social issues relate to the degree of empowerment of a people. As such, it is important to also explore the implications of the conflict from the perspective of the Arab human rights organization because it fairly approximates the actual situation as experienced by the Palestinian peoples.

This paper will trace in brief the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and will include in detail the current developments and issues in order to present its social context. The implications of the conflict on human rights and the collective aim of Palestinians for statehood will also be discussed. Finally, it will take a look at the part that the Arab Human Rights Organization, as the foremost non-government human rights advocacy group in Palestine, plays in the conflict.