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Israeli Attacks on Human Rights Defenders Must End

Tuesday, 16 February 2010 13:26 Ref.: LRAD-E010-ALE-9/2
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Al-Haq is alarmed by the issuance of a six-month travel ban by the Israeli Interior Ministry against Palestinian cartographer, Khalil Tafakji on 3 February 2010. The ban is one of several measures taken by the Israeli authorities

in recent months against human rights defenders in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). It is part of a growing trend of arbitrary restrictions placed on those advocating against Israeli violations of human rights in the OPT.  Such actions are aimed at frustrating the ability of Palestinian civil society to effectively monitor and voice opposition to Israel's practices and at furthering Israel's stated agenda of censuring those who it believes are involved in 'delegitimising' Israel in the international arena.

Travel Bans

Khalil Tafakji is a resident of occupied East Jerusalem and an expert on maps and on the issues of borders, settlements and Jerusalem. As the PLO’s chief cartographic expert, Tafakji accompanied numerous Palestinian delegations to peace talks between 1992 and 2001, and travels extensively to lecture on the situation in the OPT. His work is crucial in promoting Palestinian human rights and the Palestinian right to self-determination. As recently as 2007 he had received a written assurance by Israel’s Ministry of Interior that as he had no security-related issues against him, he was entitled to travel freely. Notwithstanding that his activities have remained the same since that time, his travel ban now cites 'security reasons' as its basis - a catch-all phrase which, because it contains no specific charge, is almost impossible to challenge.

Khalil Tafakji's experience mirrors that of Al Haq’s director, Shawan Jabarin, who was issued with a similar ban in June 2006. Shawan Jabarin had been entitled to travel freely prior to the issuance of the ban. The ban coincided with his appointment as director of Al Haq and the consequent increase in his public profile and ability to raise awareness abroad about the violations of human rights in the OPT. The ban is based on 'secret evidence' and despite three separate appeals to the Israeli High Court remains in place today.

Arbitrary detention and deportation

The issuance of travel bans against high profile members of civil society has been accompanied by a recent increase in the arbitrary detention and deportation of journalists and campaigners.

On 7 February 2010, the Israeli army raided the offices of the International Solidarity Movement in Ramallah and arrested activists Ariadna Jove Marti, a Spanish journalist and Bridgette Chappell, an Australian student at Birzeit University. Equipment and papers were confiscated and the two activists were detained initially in Ofer prison and served with deportation orders. After a successful legal challenge to their detention, they were released into Israel and are currently awaiting the outcome of their challenge against their deportation orders. They are prohibited from re-entering the West Bank.

The raid followed the deportation of International Solidarity Movement media co-ordinator, Eva Novakova in Ramallah, on 20 January 2010, and the deportation of the chief English-language editor of the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, Jared Malsin, after eight days in detention, also on 20 January 2010.

There has also been notable repression of those campaigning against the illegal Annexation Wall. On 7 February 2010 Stop the Wall's campaign offices in Ramallah were raided by the Israeli army. Prior to this, Jamal Juma', the coordinator of the Stop the Wall campaign, had been arrested on 16 December 2009 and held until 12 January 2010. He was not charged with any offence. Similarly, Mohammed Othman, a volunteer with Stop the Wall was subject to administrative detention without charge from 22 September 2009 until his release almost four months later. This occurred while he was returning to the West Bank following a speaking tour abroad. Activists in the West Bank village of Bil'in, famous for its weekly protests against the Wall, have also been the subject of numerous arrests. Abdallah Abu Rahma, head of the Popular Committee Against the Wall, was arrested on 10 December 2009. He remains in custody. On 3 February 2010, activist Ibrahim Abed El Fatah Bornat was arrested along with an American activist and a Palestinian journalist who attempted to photograph the incident. A week earlier Mohammed al-Khatib, a member of the Popular Committee Against the Wall had also been arrested and detained. He was released four days later.

Restrictions on international NGOs

There are clear indications of an effort by the Israeli Ministry of Interior to restrict the work of international NGOs operating in the OPT, including East Jerusalem, by denying their employees work visas. Until the summer of 2009, NGOs had been able to obtain B1 work permits for their employees. In recent months the Ministry of Interior began issuing tourist visas to almost all international NGO workers, which do

not formally permit them to work. Some workers have come to understand they would receive a stamp or note alongside their tourist visa, permitting them to work "in the Palestinian Authority" but in many cases this has not happened. Only 12 organisations, all of which were active in the West Bank prior to 1967, have been exempted from the new tourist visa policy. Whilst the exact intentions of the Israeli authorities in issuing tourist-only visas remains unclear, it is evident that the idiosyncratic situation in which the issuance of a tourist visa for persons meant to be working, places NGO workers in a precarious position with respect to their immigration status. Many NGOs fear that the policy will force them eventually to close their Jerusalem offices and relocate to West Bank cities, preventing them from working among the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem, that their workers' freedom of movement will be restricted to within the OPT, or that their staff will no longer be able to stay in the OPT.

The duty to protect human rights defenders

'Human rights defenders' are formally defined as persons who work, non-violently, for any or all of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Those mentioned above clearly fall within the category, in that their activities are peaceful in nature and aimed at the promotion of human rights.

Israel is under a duty to protect, and not to attack, the activities of human rights defenders. The Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms - 'The Declaration on human rights defenders' - adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly in 1998 provides that human rights defenders are entitled to several forms of protection. These include the right to seek the protection and realization of human rights at national and international levels, to conduct human rights work individually and in association with others and to meet or assemble peacefully. States are obliged to protect, promote and implement all human rights and to take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of everyone against violence, threats, retaliation, adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action because of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the Declaration.

The detention and deportation of persons who organise advocacy campaigns and protests against the wall, and the ban on the movement of prominent members of civil society who advocate for human rights, clearly breaches the obligation to protect those who legitimately exercise their right to promote human rights. It also violates the duty to protect human rights, by restricting the activities of those best able to advocate for an end to human rights violations.

The General Assembly’s adoption by consensus of the Declaration on human rights defenders represents a strong commitment by states to ensure its implementation. It also forms the basis of the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, which identify practical ways to promote and protect human rights defenders in third countries.

Violations of the ICCPR

The Declaration on human rights defenders also articulates existing rights which are enshrined in other legally binding international instruments - particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which as confirmed in the Wall Opinion of 2004, applies in the OPT. Israel's arbitrary arrests and detention of protest organisers in Bil'in constitutes a breach of the right to liberty and security of person, and the right not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention (Article 9 of the ICCPR). The disruption of the ability of persons to engage in peaceful protest is also a breach of the right of peaceful assembly (Article 21 ICCPR). Similarly, the imposition on travel bans without due process, and when the ban is aimed at preventing the ability of the person to advocate for human rights abroad, constitutes an infringement on the right of liberty of movement and the freedom to leave the country (Article 12 of the ICCPR).

Israel’s attempt to discredit opposition to human rights violations as ‘lawfare’

Israel's attack on human rights defenders appears to be part of a wider campaign by Israel against those which it sees as being responsible for engaging in 'lawfare' against it. 'Lawfare' is a term employed by Israel to discredit, by casting as militants or apologists for violence, anyone who uses legal and advocacy tools to raise awareness of and to oppose Israel’s ongoing violations of Palestinian rights. In practice, the concept characterises all human rights defenders as illegitimate or subversive in order to justify the increasingly repressive measures taken against them. Central to this emerging Israeli narrative is a terminology of war and of violence which establishes lawfare as the new front of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: As Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon put it in his address to the Israel Council on Foreign Relations 6 January 2010: ‘today the trenches are in Geneva in the Council of Human Rights, or in New York in the General Assembly, or in the Security Council, or in the Hague, the ICJ.’ Writing in 1933, the eminent international lawyer Hersch Lauterpacht issued a particularly pertinent warning with regards to economic boycott - an advocacy strategy employed by many of the activists that Israel is targeting - that ‘we must not be misled by a juxtaposition and implicit equal condemnation of economic and military force […] there is an obvious element of exaggeration in the attempts to treat a peaceful form of struggle or resistance as war.’ Al Haq's fear is that such a far-reaching and aggressive campaign as being developed by Israel is bound to have serious and long-term implications for all those advocating for human rights in the OPT including civil society groups, Palestinian, Israeli, and international human rights NGOs, lawyers, and solidarity groups.

Steps to be taken by the international community

Whilst much is made by the international community of the need of Israel and the Palestinians to return to the 'peace process', there is little explicit recognition of the fact that any peace process, in order to be just and sustainable, must be predicated on a respect for human rights. Israel's attack on human rights defenders not only constitutes a grave violation of the fundamental rights and freedoms of human rights defenders and the wider Palestinian population, but also frustrates any possible peace process, by preventing those best able to advocate for human rights from pursuing their activities.

The international community must take a strong stand against all attacks on human rights defenders and ensure that they come to an immediate end.

Al Haq therefore calls upon the international community, in particular diplomatic missions in the OPTs and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to intervene with Israel for:

  •  an end to the Israeli practice of arbitrary detention and deportation of human rights defenders;
  • support by diplomatic missions of their foreign nationals who face deportation as a result of their work as human rights defenders.
  • full adherence to the ICCPR as applied to the Palestinian population in the OPT; and
  • full respect for the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
  • In addition Al Haq call upon all members of the EU, which pursuant to EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders have a special obligation to promote the protection of human rights defenders to:
  • raise individual cases of human rights defenders with the Israeli authorities and as part of the human rights component of political dialogues between the EU and Israel;
  • publicly denounce the policy of arbitrary detention and deportation of human rights defenders;
  • establish a permanent presence of EU monitors in areas where human rights are regularly violated, such as at anti-Wall protests, to prevent the arrest of human rights defenders;
  • Suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement until Israel adheres to its obligation to protect human rights defenders

End

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