Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territory

Political context

2008 in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) was marked by a serious humanitarian crisis caused by the blockade on Gaza. Indeed, while 80% of the population of the Gaza strip is dependant on humanitarian aid, the latter, which was suspended for many months when Hamas took power, is now limited by the restrictions imposed by the Israeli army. On June 19, 2008, an Egyptian-brokered truce was reached between Israel and Hamas. Although this enabled a trickle of goods and humanitarian aid to get through, the Israeli blockade had not been lifted by the end of 2008. On December 27, 2008, a week after the end of the truce, Israel launched massive aerial raids on the Gaza strip, killing 400 persons and injuring two thousand others. On the Israeli side, four persons were killed by rockets fired from the Gaza strip.1

Freedom of movement was still seriously hampered in the OPT. The multiplication of checkpoints within the West Bank – a 62% increase over the last three years – prevented the Palestinians from accessing basic services.2 The activities of Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights defenders were deliberately hampered by the Israeli authorities, who restricted access to the West Bank, in particular to areas where the Palestinians were subjected to attacks by the settlers and to expropriation.3 Entering or leaving Gaza was also seriously hindered by the checkpoints set up by the Israeli authorities. The Israeli authorities introduced a new system of permits, which makes it practically impossible for the Gaza Palestinians to go to the West Bank, and vice versa.4

Activities of civil society organisations in the Gaza strip, including human rights ones, were also hampered by the shortages of fuel and electricity supplies; a crisis that impacted all aspects of life of the Palestinian civilian population. The Israeli authorities sharply decreased the amounts of fuel allowed into the Gaza strip, including energy fuel required for the operation of the Gaza power plant, which provides at least 30% of the electricity supplies in the Gaza strip.

At the internal level, the fragmentation led to continued deterioration in the human rights situation. The rival Palestinian factions engaged in repression against their opponents, and this generally led to massive human rights abuses, such as arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and ill-treatments, and extrajudicial executions. Those who opposed Fatah (the party of Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority) in the West Bank, and those who opposed Hamas in the Gaza strip kept living in fear. The two rival factions continued to restrict the Palestinians' right to freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. During the last months of 2008, Hamas security services and armed militia in the Gaza strip dispersed by force several demonstrations and other public gatherings organised by Fatah, while in the West Bankmany of the Hamas supporters went underground for fear of being arrested by the Palestinian Authority or Israeli forces.5

By the end of 2008, Fatah and Hamas took yet more stubborn positions, especially following the failure of the Egyptian mediation to launch an internal dialogue. These tensions could well intensify following the announcement by the Palestinian President on November 23, 2008 of his intention to organise by decree presidential and parliamentary elections early in 2009, although nothing in the Palestinian Basic Law6 allows him to dissolve Parliament before the end of its present term, in 2010. As for Hamas, it declared that it will no longer recognise Mr. Mahmoud Abbas as President after January, when his term of office expires.

Obstacles to the freedom of movement of human rights defenders

In 2008, as for most of the population, it remained impossible for Palestinian human rights defenders to go from Gaza to the West Bank. In addition to the multiplication of checkpoints in the West Bank in 2008, the freedom of movement of human rights defenders was significantly curtailed. For instance, since the second Intifada in September 2000, Mr. Raji Sourani, President of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights – PCHR (Gaza), has been unable to go the West Bank. Likewise, the Israeli military authorities have systematically forbidden Mr. Shawan Jabarin, Director General of the Palestinian NGO Al-Haq, to leave the territory, although he was invited to a number of international conferences in 2008. His request that the ban be lifted was rejected by the Supreme Court of Israel on July 7, 2008, on the grounds that "secret evidence" showed that Mr. Jabarin was an active member of a terrorist organisation. Similarly, Mr. Yusuf Qawariq, another Al-Haq staff member, was arrested on July 14, 2008 and detained for three hours by the Israeli forces as he was leaving Nablus via the Huwara checkpoint. His arrest was thought to be linked to his monitoring of human rights violations committed by the Israeli army. On September 2, 2008, the Israeli military authorities refused to grant an exit permit from Gaza to Messrs. Issam Younis and Mahmoud Abu Rahma, respectively Director and member of the al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights, Mr. Raji Sourani and Mr. Iyad Nasr, a member of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who were to go to Brussels to attend meetings with their European counterparts. Over the year, the Israeli military authorities also refused to grant an exit permit from Gaza to the following staff members of the PCHR, who were to attend various human rights meetings and activities either in the West Bank or abroad: Mr. Jaber Wishah, Deputy Director; Mr. Hamdi Shaqqura, Director of Democratic Development Unit; Mr. Iyad Alami, Director of Legal Aid Unit; Ms. Ibtissam Zaqqout, Director of Field Work Unit; Ms. Muna Shawa, Director of Women's Rights Unit; Messrs. Ibrahim Sourani and Sameer Hassaniya, lawyers; and Mr. Rami Abu Sha'ban, Accountant.

Several human rights defenders were also prevented in 2008 from going to the Gaza strip. Such was the case of members of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR), an organisation that strives for the respect of the right to health. For instance, on October 20 and 21, 2008, several PHR members and dozens of distinguished foreign visitors were prevented by the Israeli military authorities from reaching Gaza to take part in the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme's Fifth International Conference.7

Furthermore, Israeli authorities also hampered the freedom of movement of international observers mandated to monitor the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories. For instance, on December 14, 2008, the Israeli Minister for the Interior banned entry to the Palestinian territories to Mr. Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. He was deported on December 15, 2008 from the Tel Aviv Ben Gurion airport.8

Harassment of defenders reporting on the situation in Gaza and the West Bank

Harassment of human rights defenders increased in 2008 after the General Security Services (GSS) had declared on several occasions in 2007 that it was their duty to "counter the subversive activities of those who were liable to undermine the Jewish and democratic nature of the State of Israel, even when their activities were conducted with the help of instruments provided by democracy".9 This political line, supported by the Public Prosecutor, especially aimed at restricting the activities of defenders belonging to the Arab Israeli community. Following the declaration, GSS summoned for questioning journalists, human rights defenders and other activists, whose public activities were not considered "acceptable". Several of the persons interrogated were informed by the GSS that they were followed at all times, and threatened with prosecution if they continued their activities.10 For instance, on May 15, 2008, Mr. Salah Haj Yehia, a PHR member and Director of the dispensaries managed by the organisation, was summoned by GSS members to the Taybeh police station. He was questioned on the association's activities, its budget, its donors, and on other members of the association. The questions also touched on the relations between PHR and Hamas representatives in the Gaza strip.11 In November, Mr. Salah Haj Yehia was again summoned to be interrogated by GSS members on his activities in Gaza.

Furthermore, on July 8, 2008, a military order issued by the Commandant of the Israeli Army in the West Bank ordered the closing down, for a period of two years, of the Nafha Association for the Defence of Prisoners and Human Rights. Nafha, an association registered with the Palestinian Authority in 2006, is one of the many NGOs that represent Palestinian detainees in Israeli courts. The Israeli military authorities accused it of "financing terrorist organisations". Nafha denied such allegations, pointing out that there was no evidence for such a claim. Furthermore, on July 16, 2008, the Israeli army made an incursion in Nablus into the private office of Mr. Fares Abou al-Hassan, a lawyer and Director of Nafha's legal department. The military broke into his apartment in the middle of the night and forced him to take them into his private office, where they confiscated several documents, files and computers.12

Attacks on freedom of peaceful assembly

Law No. 12 on public gatherings of 1998 stipulates that public meetings and assemblies must be notified to the Director of the police or the Governor at least 48 hours before the date of the event. No authorisation is therefore necessary. Also, Article 2 of the same Law and Article 26(5) of the Palestinian Fundamental Law grant citizens the right to peaceful assembly. Nevertheless, several peaceful demonstrations were repressed in 2008. For instance, on September 6, 2008, the police brutally put down a demonstration organised in Gaza by the Islamic Union of Palestinian Teachers. The teachers were protesting against the difficult working conditions faced by the educational sector, in particular since the conflict between Fatah and Hamas broke out. Eight teachers were arrested, before being released a few hours later. The police also prevented journalists from approaching the site of the demonstration. By way of justification, the Ministry of the Interior said that the organisers of the assembly had received no authorisation.13

Urgent Interventions issued by The Observatory in 200814

Names of human rights defenders / NGOsViolationsIntervention ReferenceDate of Issuance
Mr. Shawan JabarinObstacles to freedom of movement / HarassmentJoint Press ReleaseJune 25, 2008
Urgent Appeal ISR 001/0607/ OBS 069.1July 16, 2008
Nafha Society for the Defence of Prisoners and Human RightsClosing down of an NGOUrgent Appeal ISR 001/0708/OBS 119July 15, 2008
Mr. Yusuf QawariqObstacles to freedom of movement / HarassmentUrgent Appeal ISR 002/0708/OBS 127July 29, 2008
Messrs. Issam Younis, Mahmoud Abu Rahma, Raji Sourani and Iyad NasrObstacles to freedom of movementJoint Press ReleaseSeptember 23, 2008
Joint Open Letter to the authoritiesSeptember 29, 2008

1 As to January 1, 2009.

2 In September 2008, OCHA counted a total of 634 permanent roadblocks and checkpoints and 85 flying checkpoints in the West Bank. See the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Report on the human rights situation in Israel and the Occupied Territories, 2008.

3 See ACRI above-mentioned report.

4 See Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR).

5 Idem.

6 The Palestinian Basic Law is to function as a temporary constitution for the Palestinian Authority until the establishment of an independent State and a permanent constitution for Palestine can be achieved.

7 See PCHR.

8 Idem. See also the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights' Press Statement, December 16, 2008.

9 For more information, see ACRI above-mentioned report.

10 See ACRI above-mentioned report.

11 See PHR.

12 See PCHR.

13 See the press releases issued by PCHR in 2008 for more information on the violations of the rights to freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association in the West Bank and the Gaza strip.

14 See the Compilation of cases in the CD-Rom attached to this report.


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