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Israel continues to violate rights of human rights defenders and peaceful activists

30 December 2009

Addameer * Al-Haq * Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights * Al Dameer Association for Human Rights * BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights * DCI – Palestine Section * ENSAN Center * Jerusalem Legal Aid Center * Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling

Israel has for too long been allowed to violate the rights of human rights defenders and activists. As an occupying power and State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Israel is obliged to respect the rights of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) as guaranteed under the ICCPR. Palestinian human rights defenders must be guaranteed their right to
freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and their right to liberty and security of person.

Since September 2009, Israel has intensified a repression campaign against Palestinian human rights defenders, activists and demonstrators protesting against the Annexation Wall. As part of their repression campaign, which coincided with the release of the Goldstone Report, the Israeli forces have re-launched daily dawn raids in villages affected by the Wall, arresting youths and children, for the purpose of extracting confessions about prominent community leaders advocating against the Wall, and continued to intimidate activists by destroying their private property and threatening them with detention. Finally, Israel has directly targeted the Grassroots “Stop the Wall” Campaign by arresting and intimidating its leaders.

With the recent arrests of Jamal Juma’, a prominent Palestinian human rights defender and coordinator of the “Stop the Wall” Campaign, Abdallah Abu Rahma, the Head of the Popular Committee against the Wall and Settlements in Bil’in and the administrative detention of Mohammad Othman, a youth coordinator with “Stop the Wall”, it became increasingly clear that Israel is seeking to hinder human rights defenders from carrying out their peaceful work, exercised within the framework of international humanitarian and human rights law.

Additionally, in the villages of Bil’in, Ni’ilin, Beit Duqqu, Jayyous and Al-Ma’sara, Israeli soldiers have been reported to throw stones at activists’ houses, storm their homes in the middle of the night, fire tear gas at them and destroy their personal belongings. Seemingly, these measures are implemented to deter Palestinian activists from attending weekly demonstrations against the Annexation Wall. The Israeli authorities have also summoned for interrogation a number of youth activists engaged in organizing peaceful demonstrations and solidarity events involving international supporters. Similarly, they launched an intimidation campaign against witnesses of human rights violations. On 17 December, for example, the Israeli soldiers raided the family house of eighteen-year old Salam Kanaan in Ni’lin, who became famous after she filmed an Israeli soldier shooting blindfolded and handcuffed Ashraf Abu Rahma in the foot and released it through the Israeli NGO’s, B’Tselem’s “Shooting Back” project. The soldiers came looking for the tape and when they did not find it, they left a notice, in which they summoned Salam’s family members for interrogation. In Al-Ma’sara, members of the Popular Committee Against the Wall, including Mohammad Birjiyah, Hassan Birjiyah and Mahmoud Zawahreh, who were arrested in May 2009 for their participation in demonstrations and subsequently released on bail, now face not only restrictions on their community work, but are also subject to constant delays and humiliation at Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank.

It is common Israeli practice to interrogate and detain Palestinians without charge and prevent lawyers from visiting their clients. Arbitrary detention violates the rights of human rights defenders and Israel must stop these illegal practices. Israel’s history of subjecting detained Palestinians to torture, inhumane and cruel treatment must also be noted. As Palestinian human rights organizations we demand that such practices are not used against any detained Palestinian, including Jamal Juma’, Mohammad Othman and Abdallah Abu Rahma. Importantly, the arrest of Jamal Juma’, Mohammad Othman and Abdallah Abu Rahma constitutes a violation of various international human rights instruments, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. The Declaration provides for the right of everyone to meet or assemble peacefully, which includes the right to form, join and communicate with non-governmental organizations, associations or groups. The Declaration further emphasizes the right of an individual to the lawful exercise of his or her profession, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and to solicit, receive and utilize resources for the purpose of protecting human rights. Additionally, the Declaration declares that people have the right to express concern about the policies and actions of individual officials and governmental bodies with regard to violations of human rights.

Although not legally binding, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders served as a basis for the drafting of the EU and Norwegian Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, which follow the Declaration in recognizing everyone’s right to promote and strive for the protections and realization of human rights, both individually and collectively. protection of human rights defenders has thus been recognized not only a moral obligation, but also as a social, individual and collective right and responsibility and became an important element of the European Union’s human rights external policy.

As Palestinian human rights organizations, we call upon the international community, including diplomatic missions in the occupied Palestinian territory and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to intervene with Israel for:

• the immediate release of Jamal Juma’, Mohammad Othman and Abdallah Abu Rahma, and all other local activists;
• an end to the Israeli practice of arbitrary detention;
• full adherence to the ICCPR as applied to the Palestinian population in the OPT; and
• full respect of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

In addition, we call upon members of the European Union and Norway to fully comply with the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders and the Norwegian Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders; develop and adopt an effective strategy aiming to provide protection to Palestinian human rights defenders working in the OPT and Israel, by:

• Regularly attending trials of Palestinian Human Rights Defenders (HRD) who are held in detention. Exert pressure on the Israeli Military Court of Administrative Detainees to attend closed hearings of HRD held in administrative detention. Additionally, establish rotation routines for trial observation on behalf of the local Presidency.
• Regularly visit HRD in custody prior to trial.
• Ensure a permanent and institutionalized presence of EU monitors in areas where human rights are violated on a regular basis to prevent the arbitrary arrest of Palestinian HRD. These areas include:
villages affected by the Annexation Wall; parts of East Jerusalem, where houses are at risk of demolition and families are at risk of eviction; and, Palestinian villages located near settlements. Additionally, ensure EU presence at all house demolitions or evictions in East Jerusalem.
• Issue public statements condemning the arbitrary arrest and detention of HRD.
• Raise specific cases of HRD in detention with the Israeli authorities under the EU-Israel political dialogue.

BACKGROUND ON THE ARREST OF “STOP THE WALL” ACTIVISTS

1. Mohammad Othman, who is a youth coordinator with the “Stop the Wall Campaign”, was arrested by the Israeli soldiers on 22 September 2009 at the Allenby Border Crossing as he returned home to the West Bank from an advocacy tour in Norway where he attended several advocacy meetings and spoke about the Wall, and its associated unlawful regime. Since then, he has been held for 61 days in interrogation, and barred from access to his attorney for two weeks. After his two months of interrogation proved nothing, no external evidence was brought to the attention of the court and the military prosecution was unable to formulate substantiated allegations or charges against him, he was placed under administrative detention a day after the Military Court of Appeals decided to release him on bail. On 22 December, Mohammad’s administrative detention order was renewed for another month, ending on 22 January 2010.

2. On 15 December 2009, Jamal Juma’, a prominent Palestinian human rights defender, coordinator of the “Stop the Wall” campaign and a founding member of several Palestinian civil society networks and non-governmental organizations, was summoned for interrogation by the Israeli Police. He was asked to go to the Qalandia checkpoint, where he was subsequently handcuffed and taken to his home. His home was searched for two hours in the presence of his wife and three young children where his cell phone and computer were confiscated. Jamal was then brought to Moskobiyyeh Interrogation Center in West Jerusalem, where he was subjected to interrogation. Two subsequent court hearings, on 21 December and 24 December extended Jamal’s detention period for the purpose of interrogation based on “secret information” that was made available to the military judge by representatives from the Israeli Security Agency (ISA). The content of the “secret information” was not however disclosed to Jamal’s attorney. Although a resident of occupied East Jerusalem, Jamal is currently being interrogated under the Israeli military orders, with no access to the outside world, and until 27 December, without any access to his attorney due to a court’s decision to implement a ban on lawyers’ visits. Practice shows that the military court always allows the interrogation of East Jerusalemites under the military orders in order to extend the interrogation period to the maximum, allow the outmost flexibility for Israeli Security Agency (ISA) officers in their conduct of the interrogation and reduce legal safeguards to the minimum. Prior to his arrest, Jamal has been actively campaigning for the protection of Palestinian human rights defenders and activists protesting against the Annexation Wall, including his colleague, Mohammad Othman.

3. On 10 December 2009, the Israeli forces arrested Abdallah Abu Rahma, a high school teacher and the Head of the Popular Committee against the Wall and Settlements, in the village of Bil’in, where the Israeli authorities have annexed close to 55 percent of the village’s land for the construction of the Wall and the expansion of Israeli settlements. Abdallah is currently tried on three charges, namely incitement, stone throwing and the possession of arms. It is clear from Abdallah’s indictment that he was arrested for his leading role in mobilizing a non-violent resistance movement against the Annexation Wall and its associated, unlawful regime. Among the accusations under the banner of “incitement”, the military prosecution listed Abdallah’s instrumental role in organizing and leading demonstrations against the Wall and distributing Palestinian flags to participants of the demonstrations, which sixteen years after the signing of the Oslo Accords is still considered a “security offence” under Israeli military regulations. In relation to the last charge, the Israeli army accuses Abdallah of collecting empty sound and gas grenades, as well as M16 bullets used by the soldiers to disperse the crowds at demonstrations and showing them as an exhibit in the village’s museum to raise awareness of Israeli practices against unarmed civilians. However, documenting human rights violations, collecting evidence, providing support and assistance to victims seeking remedies, combating cultures of impunity and mainstreaming human rights culture and information on an international and domestic level have been recognized by the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders as legitimate activities that need to be not only protected but also promoted. Further, the non-violent character of the demonstrations has been, amongst others, recognized by the Elders organization, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former president Jimmy Carter and former Irish President, Mary Robinson, who visited Bil’in and met with Abdallah Abu Rahma during their mission to the OPT in August 2009.