The latest flare-up of violence in the Gaza Strip has been accompanied by a “catalogue of violations” committed by Israeli police against Palestinians in Israel and occupied East Jerusalem, according to research from Amnesty International.
Arab citizens of Israel have been subjected to unlawful force from officers during peaceful demonstrations, sweeping mass arrests, torture and other ill-treatment in detention, and police have failed to protect Palestinians from premeditated attacks by rightwing Jewish extremists, the human rights watchdog said on Thursday.
Two Israeli police spokespeople did not immediately respond to the Guardian’s requests for comment.
Palestinians face a culture of increasing repression and violence from the Israeli authorities and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank, said Saleh Hijazi, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and north Africa. The report comes as protesters took to the streets of Ramallah over the death in custody of an outspoken political figure arrested by Palestinian security forces.
“There are always periods where the institutionalised structural violence and discrimination against Palestinians becomes severe, but this is the worst it has been in a long time. There is a complete disregard for civilian life,” he said.
“As long as the issues and reasons why people rise up in protests are still there, demonstrations will continue. In particular Israel’s allies need to send a message that the authorities need to adhere to both domestic and international law to end these new police tactics and wave of violence.”
Amnesty researchers documented more than 20 cases of Israeli police violence since early May, when protests against the eviction of Palestinians from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah began. The unrest became one of the triggers for a new round of confrontation between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Hundreds of Palestinians have been injured in the police crackdown and a 17-year-old boy shot dead during mostly peaceful demonstrations in Israeli cities and East Jerusalem over the last six weeks.
At least 2,150 people – 90% of them Palestinian – have been arrested, most for “insulting or assaulting a police officer” or “taking part in an illegal gathering”, rather than for violent offences, while rightwing Jewish extremists have for the most part continued to organise freely.
On at least two occasions in Haifa and Nazareth, witness accounts and verified videos showed police attacking groups of unarmed protesters without provocation, Amnesty reported.
Also captured on video was an incident in which an Israeli police officer shot a 15-year-old girl in the back outside her Sheikh Jarrah home, and another in which a protester was shot in the face while using his phone to film police from a balcony in Jaffa.
Amnesty also documented the torture of detainees who were tied up, beaten and deprived of sleep at a police station in Nazareth and Kishon detention centre.
“It was like a brutal prisoner-of-war camp. The officers were hitting the young men with broomsticks and kicking them with steel-capped boots. Four of them had to be taken away by ambulance, and one had a broken arm,” said a witness who was at the Nazareth police station.
Also on Thursday, news emerged that Nizar Banat, a well-known critic of the PA, died during an arrest by Palestinian security forces in the city of Hebron. A large demonstration in Ramallah in response to his death, calling for PA officials to resign, was met with teargas and use of metal batons from Palestinian security forces.
Banat, who had planned to run in cancelled parliamentary elections this year, had called on western countries to cut off aid to the PA because of growing human rights violations and endemic corruption.
Last month, gunmen he claimed were loyal to the PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, attacked his house with bullets, stun grenades and teargas while his wife and children were inside. He had also accused Abbas’ supporters of waging an incitement campaign against him on social media.
Speaking to media on Thursday, his family said he had been severely beaten. In a statement, the Hebron governorate said the activist’s health “deteriorated” when Palestinian forces went to arrest him and he was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
Palestinians critical of the PA have reported mounting pressure to silence them in recent weeks. On Monday, the prominent activist Issa Amro was also detained by Palestinian security forces in Hebron and held overnight.