U.S. report cites rights abuses by Israel, Palestinians

"You'll find evidence of human rights abuses in both Israel and the territories," John Shattuck, assistant secretary of state for democracy and human rights, said last week in a briefing on the report.

While Israel generally respects human rights, the report says, the country sometimes mistreats Palestinian detainees.

Tying the incidence of human rights abuses to movement in the peace process, the report says that Israel's main problems over the years have arisen from "policies and practices in the occupied territories and from its fight against terrorism."

The Israeli redeployments from the West Bank and Gaza "have significantly reduced the scope of these problems," the report says.

According to the State Department, one Palestinian was killed while in Israeli detention in 1997, compared with two deaths in 1996.

Seven detainees died in Palestinian prisons, including two who the Palestinian Authority said died after being tortured, according to the report. In 1996, four Palestinians died while in custody.

Neither Israeli nor Palestinian officials were available to comment on the report.

While this report does not focus on all terrorist incidents — a separate U.S. report issued later in the year will do that — it does mention the 24 victims killed in suicide bombings after the Palestinians "slackened security cooperation" following the start of Israeli construction at Har Homa, a development in southeastern Jerusalem.

For their part, Israeli troops killed 10 Palestinian demonstrators, including a deaf and mentally impaired 14-year-old boy in Gaza and an 8-year-old boy in Bethlehem, according to the report.

Based on information provided by U.S. Embassies around the world, the report is usually respected for its accuracy — and often attacked by U.S. allies for its analysis.

But this year, one part of the report is being called into question.

After listing the names of Palestinian youths killed during clashes with Israeli troops in the section on the West Bank and Gaza, including areas under Palestinian control, the report states, "No Israeli civilians or security personnel were killed or seriously wounded by [Palestinian] demonstrators."

However, there were at least 35 incidents in which Israelis were injured by Palestinians during demonstrations, many seriously, according to news clippings gathered by the Zionist Organization of America.

In one incident on July 1, Palestinian protesters threw pipe bombs at Israeli soldiers in Hebron.

"In an anguishing scene caught on videotape, two Israeli soldiers fell screaming to the ground and left a thick trail of blood as medics carried them away," the Washington Post reported on July 5.

State Department officials could not immediately comment on the apparent discrepancies, but the issue was expected to be raised by Jewish activists at a separate briefing with Shattuck.

The apparent discrepancy comes on the heels of the release of another State Department report that includes a "serious policy gaffe," according to a State Department official who spoke on the condition that he not be identified.

The Jan. 23 interim report on worldwide religious persecution names Palestine as a country.

In a partial list of some of the conflicts in which religion is a factor, the report includes Bosnia, Northern Ireland and Israel-Palestine.

The U.S. State Department said this week that it plans to change the "Palestine" reference. The corrected version, which officials said would be posted on the State Department Web site, will instead list the Israel-Palestinian conflict as an example of one influenced by religion.

Meanwhile, on the larger issue of religious freedom, three prominent American religious leaders are preparing to travel to China next week to observe and discuss the climate for religious freedom there.

One of the delegates appointed by President Clinton, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, said he plans to raise the issue of recognizing Judaism as an official religion during meetings with China's top officials.