27 Palestinian Political Officials Held Without Charge or Trial
To: EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton;
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe;
The European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights.
As an organisation dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Al-Haq is gravely concerned about Israel’s escalation of political repression against Palestinian lawmakers, particularly in East Jerusalem. Between 19 and 24 January four Palestinian MPs and a former Minister were detained by Israeli Occupying Forces on account of their membership with the Hamas affiliated ‘Change and Reform’ political party. They face administrative detention and unlawful transfer. At present, there are 27 Palestinian lawmakers in Israeli administrative detention where they are being held without charges in violation of due process and the presumption of innocence.
- On 19 January 2012, Aziz Dweik, head of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), was arrested by Israeli forces near Ramallah. He has since been sentenced to six months administrative detention without charge by an Israeli military court. On the same day, in Bethlehem, Israeli forces arrested MP Khaled Tafesh after storming his home.
- On 23 January 2012, Mohammed Totah, a member of the PLC, and Khaled Abu Arafeh, former Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, were arrested in Jerusalem. The two men had taken refuge at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) compound in East Jerusalem for the past 18 months after Israel revoked their residency permits and ordered their expulsion from the city.
- On 24 January 2012, Israeli forces once more detained Palestinian lawmaker Abul Jabbar Fuqaha and ransacked his home in Ramallah. Fuqaha had been released in February 2011 after two years of administrative detention.
- On 26 September 2011, Ahmed Attoun, who is also a member of the PLC, was arrested in Jerusalem. He had also been sheltering in the ICRC compound for 15 months after Israeli authorities revoked his Jerusalem residency status and ordered that he be forcibly transferred from the city in June 2010 due to his political affiliation.
- In December 2010, Mohammad Abu Teir, a Jerusalem based lawmaker, was detained and charged with illegally residing in Jerusalem after Israeli authorities had revoked his residency rights due to his political affiliation. He was forcibly transferred to Ramallah after spending five months in administrative detention. Teir had already spent 52 months in Israeli administrative detention after being arbitrarily arrested in 2006.
- In another example of overt political repression, PLC member Fath’i Qar’awi, of the Tulkarem Governorate, received an order from Israel’s military commander in the region to close the local office of the ‘Change and Reform’ political party. This office, which houses three PLC members, is situated in Area A of the OPT, over which Israel authority should have no administrative control.
These arrests come at a time when the political framework in the OPT is undergoing serious change. Parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in May and at present, reconciliation talks are ongoing between Fatah and Hamas with a view towards creating a more unified political environment.
The arbitrary arrest and consequent forcible transfer of elected Palestinian officials from Jerusalem for their political affiliation and participation, coupled with the denial of freedom of association and expression, have obvious implications for free and fair Palestinian elections in the OPT and East Jerusalem in particular. Furthermore, in light of Israel’s repeated denunciation of the possible reconciliation, these arrests amount to an attempt to hamper any such resolution between the two Palestinian parties.
As an Occupying Power, Israel is obliged to respect International Human Rights Law in the OPT, as confirmed by the International Court of Justice. Conversely, the recent arrests and expulsions of Palestinian political officials constitute blatant violations of the rights to freedom of movement and residence as well as basic civil and political rights, including the freedom of opinion, expression and association, as enshrined in Articles 12, 19, 22 and 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, respectively.
Instead of guaranteeing fundamental civil and political rights, Israel is interfering with the Palestinian political process by creating a climate of intimidation and oppression. As such, Israel is obstructing the exercise of democracy in the OPT and undermining the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.
Furthermore, East Jerusalem forms part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and Palestinians living therein are protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention. The forcible transfer of protected persons, as in the case of many of these lawmakers, amounts to a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
While we welcome today’s call from European Parliamentarians for Israel to release all Palestinian lawmakers, we hope that this expression of support will be reiterated by the wider international community and will result in positive action.
- Al-Haq urges the international political community to not only categorically condemn these punitive measures against Palestinian lawmakers but also to demand the immediate release of all 27 currently in administrative detention.
- The European Union (EU) Heads of Mission Report 2011 recommends that Israeli authorities be urged to implement an urgent policy change on East Jerusalem. Al-Haq firmly believes a step away from the current Israeli policy of political repression should be the first stage in any such policy change. This means respecting the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
- The EU has consistently supported the reopening of Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, which have been subject to prolonged closuere. In order for this to happen, the EU needs to first ensure that political representatives face neither oppression nor forcible transfer but are free to engage in political affairs without threat or censure.
- Compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL) is a matter of international concern, as reaffirmed by the European Union Guidelines on Promoting Compliance with International Humanitarian Law (2005/C 327/04). Al-Haq urges the EU to uphold its obligations as the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions to ensure respect for the provisions therein.