Following the Israeli military raid on the offices of seven Palestinian human rights groups in the early hours of August 18, their ransacking, theft of their property and records and the sealing of their doors, twenty-five “independent experts of the United Nations issued a statement condemning “Israel’s escalation of attacks against Palestinian civil society”.
“These actions constitute a severe crackdown on human rights defenders and are unlawful and unacceptable,” the August 24 statement said, calling on UN member states “to take effective measures under international law to put an end to these abuses”.
Mondoweiss spoke with two of the authors of the statement.
Francesca Albanese is the “Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967”. She took over the unpaid position on May 1, taking over from Canadian law professor Michael Lynk.
Mary Lawlor has been “Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders” since May 2020.
Defending human rights and human rights defenders in occupied Palestine is a difficult task. Israel does not cooperate with UN special rapporteurs or other independent experts. He does not answer their letters and does not let them enter the actually annexed Palestinian territories.
And the Israeli government is currently refusing to renew the visas of the international staff of the Palestinian office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Shortly after starting her term as Special Rapporteur, Albanese asked to meet with the Permanent Mission of Israel in Geneva. His request was denied. His communications with the Israeli government – individually and with other special rapporteurs – went unanswered.
Albanese has a lot in mind. On May 4, the Israeli High Court ruled that the occupying forces had the right to relocate 1,200 people, including 500 children, from Massafer Yatta (the “highest number of forcible transfers since 1967”, says Albanese). Seven days after this decision, an Israeli sniper shot dead Shireen Abu Akleh.
“It’s very difficult to have an impact on the Israelis because of their non-commitment,” Albanese said. Mondoweiss. “This non-engagement is more than regrettable… I hope and expect the Israeli government to engage with me. If not, at least it won’t get in the way of my work.
Mary Lawlor has written ten official letters to Israel regarding Palestinian human rights groups targeted by Israel. She received no response.
Lawlor refers to the August 18 Israeli raid on the offices of six groups declared “terrorists” in October, and a seventh group, the Palestinian Health Working Committees – “seven credible human rights organizations and deemed” – as an “atrocity”. , for lack of a better word”, and the administrative detention of rights defenders like Salah Hammouri as a “dreadful scourge”.
Hammouri, a Franco-Palestinian human rights lawyer and field researcher for the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association – one of the Six – has been in and out of Israeli prisons since 2005, including a year in “administrative detention”, without charge and on the basis of secret evidence.
At the beginning of March, Hammouri was again placed in administrative detention. On September 4, the day before his scheduled release from a second round of three-month detention, the Israeli military issued a third.
Like most Palestinian prisoners in Israel, the 37-year-old father of two is currently incarcerated inside the Green Line, in violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
And, although Hammouri was born in Jerusalem, in October 2021 the Israeli Interior Ministry revoked his residency in Jerusalem, for “breach of allegiance” to the State of Israel.
“Israel cannot coerce the occupied population… into pledging allegiance to it,” said Mary Lawlor. Mondoweiss“because Israel, under international law, is the enemy power, the occupying power”.
Lawlor and others, including the Task Force on Arbitrary Detention, have communicated with Israel about Hammouri on several occasions. Israel did not respond.
Salah Hammouri’s case is emblematic of international indifference to Israel’s human rights abuses, says Albanese. Despite his French nationality, Hammouri received no effective support from the French government. Indeed, Hammouri was transferred to Hadarim maximum security prison, inside the Green Line, after Hammouri published a seemingly unsuccessful open letter to French President Emmanuel Macron.
Likewise, Albanese points out, the US government did not hold Israel responsible for the travel ban imposed on US citizen Ubai Al-Aboudi, director of the Bisan Center for Research and Development, one of the seven groups raided. on August 18, and for the murder of Palestinian-American Shireen Abu Akleh.
The indifference of the “international community” towards Palestinian human rights groups runs counter to the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and Conventional Law which Israel joined, said Francesca Albanese and Mary Lawlor Mondoweiss.
Lawlor denounces the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) relating to human rights defenders that Israel regularly violates: freedom of expression and opinion and of peaceful assembly (article 21), the freedom of association (article 22) and the right to participate in public life (article 25).
Although Israel is a signatory to the CCPR, it insists that the Pact only applies in its own sovereign territory, therefore not in the occupied West Bank. It takes the same position on the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Israel extends Covenant protections to Jewish residents of West Bank settlements.
While Albanese and Lawlor are pleased that nine EU member states have formally rejected Israel’s “terrorism” charges against the six Palestinian rights groups, they say this is not enough.
“As far as the nine states are concerned, of course it’s great that they came forward, but they really need to use more leverage to stop these aggressive attacks and get this terrorist designation overturned,” Lawlor said. “And they also need to put in place appropriate political and financial support, so that these people can continue to work.”
And, adds Lawlor, “A centimeter of the United States is worth more than a meter of the EU”.
Absent punitive measures that the US and EU are unlikely to impose, Israel will continue to crack down on Palestinian human rights groups. And, the “terrorist” affiliation charges are just a smokescreen, say Albanese and Lawlor.
“It is a tool that powers in a dominant position use to advance the repression of the subjugated population,” Albanese said. Mondoweiss. “We must not forget that even Nelson Mandela was considered a terrorist in apartheid South Africa.”
Does Israel practice apartheid? Yes, said Albanese. “It is fully documented that Israel practiced the crime of apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and on Palestinians, more broadly.”
“I think the goal is to neutralize their work, stop their work, and cut off their funding,” Lawlor says. “It’s as simple as that. Israel doesn’t want human rights defenders to work, document and publicize the attacks and injustice done to Palestinians. So that’s their tactic.
Israel’s relentless onslaught on Palestinian rights groups also appears to be aimed at thwarting the long-running and opaque investigation of Palestine by the International Criminal Court. Palestinian groups collect evidence. At least one member of the Six, Al-Haq director Shawan Jabarin, met with the ICC attorney general.
By seizing office files, computers and USB drives, says Albanese, Israel appears to violate Article 70(1)(c) of the ICC’s Rome Statute, which prohibits “retaliating against a witness for testifying or destroying, tampering with or interfering with the collection of evidence. »
Likewise, says Lawlor, the planting of the Pegasus spyware on the phones of Salah Hammouri and other Palestinian human rights defenders puts them and their clients at risk.
Do Palestinians and their civil society groups have the right to resist all these acts of Israeli repression? Yes, Francesca Albanese said Mondoweiss“because it is a population under prolonged and illegal occupation”.
“The Palestinian people have the right to self-determination, which is ultimately the right to exist as a people, and also the right to resist, as a people,” Albanese said.
“What are the means for the Palestinians to resist the occupation? First and foremost, international law… And the Palestinians, frankly, over time have resorted to peaceful resistance, legal resistance. Look at the work of the six NGOs! And even that is impossible to protect. This is a dangerous signal that we are sending to the Palestinians under occupation.
“To keep an entire people under occupation for 55 years,” says Albanese, “it takes a lot [of] violence, because you suppress their rights every day, and of course that will trigger violence in response. There is only one way to bring peace to this place, and that is by securing freedom. We achieve freedom by conforming to international law.
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