Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
1 - 7 October 1998
Issue No.397
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

Rights under Oslo's foot

Beating an Arab Israeli
Israeli border police beat an Arab Israeli on Monday, on the second day of clashes between residents of the Israeli Arab town of Umm El-Fahm and police in protest over land confiscation for an Israeli army firing range (photo: AFP)

By Graham Usher The fifth anniversary of the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles, or Oslo Accords, passed with little ceremony in Israel and the Occupied Territories. In Oslo -- where the secret PLO-Israel negotiations that led to the accords were brokered in January 1993 -- a small commemoration was held with Yasser Arafat, US special envoy Dennis Ross and former Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres. The most notable aspect of the gathering was the absence of the present Israeli leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, who was invited but declined to attend.

In the West Bank and Gaza, the anniversary was overshadowed by Israel's murder on 10 September of Emad and Adel Awadallah, two Hamas members wanted by the Palestinian Authority (PA) for their alleged involvement in the killing five months ago of Hamas military leader Mohieddin Al-Sharif, and by Israel as the supposed brains behind a series of suicide attacks in Israeli cities in 1996 and 1997.

Israel slapped a full-scale closure on the Occupied Territories, while Hamas promised a swift and bloody reprisal. The PA denounced the executions as "state-sponsored terrorism," even though some Palestinians suspected that, given Emad Awadallah's recent escape from a PA jail, such "terrorism" may well have concealed a Palestinian hand behind the Israeli one.

The contrast between the intimacy of the meeting in Norway and the brutality of Israeli rule in the West Bank offers a fitting epitaph to a peace process that, for most Palestinians, has long since died. And the fundamental reason for this is that Oslo failed to effect any material change in the way most Palestinians are ruled in the occupied territories. It is a failure eloquently attested to in Amnesty International's latest report on Israel, the PA and the Occupied Territories, "Five years after the Oslo Agreement: human rights sacrificed for security".

While acknowledging that the numbers of Palestinians imprisoned and unlawfully killed by Israel has "greatly diminished" in the years since Oslo, Amnesty's principle conclusion is that "essentially nothing has changed in the laws and practice governing the arrest and detention of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories." It notes that around 1,600 Palestinians are routinely arrested by Israel's military forces every year, including an average of 800 who are "systematically tortured" during interrogation, and that many are subject to long periods of incommunicado detention without trial.

In two areas of violation, namely torture and Israel's use of extra judicial executions, the situation, if anything, has become worse since Oslo.

The failure in May 1998 of Israel's Supreme Court to prohibit such "interrogation methods" as sleep deprivation, hooding and violent shaking means, says Amnesty, that "Israel has effectively legalised the use of torture." And while Israel has been summarily killing Palestinians for years, it was only justified as a legitimate policy "approved by the prime minister himself" after the botched assassination attempt by Mossad agents on Hamas leader, Khalid Mish'al, in Amman in August 1997. A government Commission of Inquiry into the attempted hit concluded that, in pursuit of Israel's perceived security needs, "all international rules of conduct could be broken," notes Amnesty.

The image of Israel as a "state above the law" is hardly new to Palestinians. Their hope, with Oslo, was that the establishment of a Palestinian Authority would afford them at least a minimum of protection. That hope has proved forlorn.

In the years since the PA was installed in 1994, 19 Palestinians have died in PA custody, hundreds have been tortured and thousands illegally detained in "mass arbitrary arrest campaigns" usually targeted at suspected members of the Islamist and PLO opposition. Amnesty estimates that there are currently "300 political or security prisoners" in PA jails who "have been held for up to four years without trial."

The most incriminating part of Amnesty's report, however, is the quiet advocacy of such abuses by Israel and the US. Amnesty cites America's active encouragement of Arafat's decision in April 1995 to set up the PA's so-called State Security Courts in the self-rule areas. Essentially military tribunals, these courts have since sentenced more than 30 Palestinians to imprisonment and executed two others for such crimes as "incitement against the peace process." Illegal under every tenet of international law, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns endorsed the establishment of the State Security Courts as a measure of Arafat's "commitment to the security of Israel."

The grim conclusion drawn from Amnesty's report is that a "peace process" that suborns all to Israel's security and nothing to Palestinians' human rights, not only has not worked, but, in all conscience, should not work. It also explains why so few Palestinians and Israelis felt any need to remember its fifth birthday.