Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Israel / Occupied Palestinian Territory

Political context

Since the victory of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) in the legislative elections of January 2006, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly Gaza, have repeatedly been the scene of clashes between Palestinian armed groups. These clashes led, in June 2007, to the occupation of Gaza by Hamas. These deadly internal struggles have been accompanied by numerous cases of extrajudicial executions of Palestinians by the Israeli army. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), more than 650 Palestinian civilians, including 120 children, were killed in 2007 by Israeli armed forces. According to the Israeli organisation B'Tselem, 380 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli army in 2007.

The year 2007 was also marked by the continued firing of rockets from Gaza into the Israeli territory, and a suicide bomber attack on January 29, 2007 in Eilat. In addition, Israeli army Corporal Gilad Shalit, captured by Palestinian militants in Gaza on June 25, 2006, was still detained at the end of 2007.

Following the occupation of Gaza, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of emergency in June 2007 throughout the territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority, dismissed Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, and formed a new Government to implement the state of emergency. Following this announcement, the United States, the European Union and Israel put an end to their economic embargoes on the Palestinian Authority.

In 2007, the already precarious humanitarian situation evolved into an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by the complete closure of Gaza by the Israeli authorities and the freezing of all relations between the Hamas administration and the Israeli Government.

Moreover, the presence of military blockades imposed by Israel created significant restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Territory, and confiscation of customs duties by Israel caused a severe deterioration of living conditions for Palestinians. Therefore, poverty, dependence on food aid, health problems and unemployment of the Palestinian people reached record levels. Additionally, the Israeli army has refused to investigate the killings of Palestinian civilians, which reinforces the sense of impunity that prevails within the Israeli army. In July 2007, the Israeli Minister of Justice proposed an amendment to the Law on State responsibility to prohibit Palestinians from filing suits for reparations from the Israeli army.1 Furthermore, aerial bombardments by Israeli armed forces have intensified in the Gaza Strip, and illegal settlement in the West Bank has increased. Construction of the 700 kilometre-long wall between Israel and the West Bank has also continued. Hundreds of Palestinians were arrested and placed in administrative detention for "offences against State security".

On the other hand, the release of Mr. Yoni Ben Artzi, the first Israeli conscientious objector to be prosecuted (in 2003) since the 1970s, has been an important step forward.

Obstacles to freedom of association

Human rights defenders face severe restrictions from Palestinian authorities on their activities, particularly in regard to their freedom of association. After announcing the state of emergency, President Abbas issued on June 20, 2007 a new Decree on freedom of association which critically increased the powers of the Ministry of Interior regarding the terms of closure of NGOs (Articles 1 and 2), and which stipulates that all NGOs must re-apply for registration (Article 3). The decree contradicts the right to establish organisations as guaranteed by Article 26 of the amended Fundamental Law of 2003 as well as international standards of human rights. On the basis of this Decree, the Minister of Interior of the Palestinian Government in Ramallah decided a few days later to dissolve 103 NGOs that had submitted their applications for re-registration, claiming that they had committed "legal, administrative and financial violations of Law No. 1 of 2000 on the solidarity of associations and non-governmental institutions". Of the 103 organisations, 56 had been closed in late 2007.

Arbitrary detentions and abusive prosecutions of defenders

In 2007, the Israeli authorities continued their policy of harassment against and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. For example, Mr. Mohammad Bsharat, Executive Director of the Association "Nafha" for the Defence of Prisoners and Human Rights, was arrested in Nablus in August 2007, placed in custody, interrogated as to his human rights activities, and sentenced to six months' imprisonment in October 2007. Established in conformity with the law and registered with the Palestinian Authority in 2006, Nafha is one of many NGOs that represent Palestinian prisoners before Israeli courts and defend the interests of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention centres. Mr. Ziyad Hmeidan, a fieldworker for Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights NGO, was also kept in detention for almost two years without charge or access to a fair trial. He was finally released in March 2007. Additionally, Israeli human rights defenders may also be subject to improper lawsuits, as was the case with Mr. Mordechai Vanunu, an nuclear whistle-blower who was sentenced to six months' imprisonment in June 2007 by the Jerusalem Correctional Tribunal for "breach of an administrative order" that prevents him from leaving the country and talking to foreign journalists.

Serious obstacles to freedom of movement

Palestinian human rights defenders, much like the entire Palestinian population, are subject to severe restrictions on their freedom of movement, which hamper their activities and creates the feeling of being imprisoned in "closed military zones." Mr. Shawan Jabarin, General Director of Al-Haq, brought a case before the Israeli Court of Justice for a decision to review the travel ban that had been imposed on him by the Israeli military authorities. Mr. Jabarin has faced multiple bans since May 2006, and was thus unable to attend the annual congress of the FIDH in Lisbon in April 2007 or an international conference on peace and justice in Germany in June 2007. At a hearing held on June 20, 2007, the Israeli military authorities argued that the West Bank had been a "closed military zone" since July 2, 1967, and that therefore people had no right to enter (for those who are outside) or leave the occupied territory. It was asserted that the possibility of exit or entry was subject to the discretion of the military authorities, who felt that allowing Mr. Jabarin to travel abroad was a security risk for the State of Israel, given his "presumed political affiliations".

The situation is even more precarious in the Gaza Strip. Mr. Raji Sourani, Director of the PCHR, was prevented from leaving the Gaza Strip to attend the "Conference of civil society in support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace" organised by the United Nations and held at the European Parliament in Brussels in August 2007. The refusal was one of many restrictions on freedom of movement for Mr. Sourani, who had been invited on numerous occasions by international NGOs, United Nations agencies and other international organisations, foreign ministries, but systematically prevented from travelling.

Israeli authorities have repeatedly restricted or prevented members of human rights organisations, international or Israeli, from entering Palestinian territory. A delegation sent by FIDH in July 2007 faced many difficulties before they were able to enter Gaza. Similarly, in October 2007, members of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) were banned from entering Zone A in the West Bank.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 See Human Rights Watch Annual Report 2008.


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