Israeli military rebuts charges of rights violations


JERUSALEM -- Accused repeatedly of violations of human rights on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Israeli military yesterday defended its actions in countering the Palestinian rebellion as fully within international law.

Col. David Yahav, the Israel Defense Forces' deputy advocate general, asserted that many of the army's most criticized actions -- detention without trial, deportations, demolition of houses, curfews, censorship and seizure of land -- are permitted under international treaties.

Palestinians actually have more rights than before 1967, when Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and far more than other people under military occupation, he declared, because of their access to Israeli courts, judicial review for major decisions on the territories, and "a spirit of due process."

Introducing a 250-page book in response to the domestic and international criticism of the Israeli military's efforts to cope with the "intifada," Colonel Yahav contended that the army had succeeded in operating within "the rule of law," despite the great danger and difficulty.

Human rights organizations, among the military's sharpest critics, immediately took issue with the presentation.

Expulsions, detention without trial, house demolitions and denial of legal counsel are all contrary to international law, said Joshua Schoffman, legal director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. The military, moreover, has been slow, he said, in investigating and prosecuting those responsible for human rights abuses.

Colonel Yahav and Capt. Uzi Amit-Kohn, who helped write the book, said that "the doctrine of military necessity" was the basis of virtually all Israeli actions and that the only limits on force were "reasonableness" and "proportionality."

"We are entitled to use what measures are required to restore public order and security in the territories," Colonel Yahav said during the 90-minute, sometimes raucous news conference.

Trying to explain how Israel could apply international conventions, such as the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention on protecting civilians in wartime, to assert its authority even as it refuses to accept obligations under those treaties, Captain Amit-Kohn said:

"The Israeli government maintains that the Fourth Geneva Convention [on civilian protection] does not apply de jure [in the law], but we are willing to apply its humanitarian provisions de facto [in fact]. That may seem contradictory, but it has been our position since 1967."

The point appeared to be to reassure Israelis that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has been relatively benign and that Israel will be leaving behind "the rule of law" as Palestinians approach self-government.

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