Israeli security forces and settlers are being allowed to perpetrate abuses against Palestinians with no real fear of being brought to justice, Amnesty International said in a report Wednesday.
The failure of the authorities to bring prosecutions against Israeli citizens was in marked contrast however with the pursuit of Palestinians through trials which often failed to meet international standards, the London-based rights group charged.
"Israeli soldiers, police and settlers who committed unlawful killings, ill-treatment and other attacks against Palestinians and their property commonly did so with impunity," Amnesty said in its annual report.
"Investigations were rare, as were prosecutions of the perpetrators, which in most cases did not lead to convictions."
Palestinians living in the occupied
West Bank frequently complain that the authorities turn a blind eye to attacks by settlers, either physical assaults or destruction of their farmland.
The government has acknowledged that hardline settlers have been able to wreck olive orchards in the territory and allegations that livestock has been poisoned have also been investigated.
Amnesty however said that complaints sometimes proved counter-productive for the Palestinian population.
"Israeli soldiers and police at times intervened to stop settlers attacking Palestinians, often when Israeli or international peace activists were present," the report said.
"However, in most cases they failed to intervene and often responded to settlers’ attacks by imposing further restrictions on the local Palestinian population, as demanded by the settlers."
The reluctance to pursue the settlers or soldiers through the civil courts was not replicated when it came to the Palestinians who are often tried before military courts sitting without a jury, said the report.
"By contrast, Israel used all means at its disposal, including assassinations, collective punishment and other measures that violate international law, against Palestinians who carried out attacks against Israelis or were suspected of direct or indirect involvement in such attacks.
"Trials before military courts often did not meet international standards of fairness, with allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees inadequately investigated," it added.
The Israeli government said it was studying Amnesty’s report "very carefully".
"Defending human rights is central to Israeli democracy," said foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev. "We take any allegations as to possible violations of human rights extremely seriously and investigate them thoroughly."