Association

Following the amendment of Law No. 1 on Charitable Associations and Civil Society Organisations and publication in the official papers on 2nd February 2021, civil society organisations (CSOs) issued a statement to express their absolute rejection of this law.

The statement highlights the lack of transparency for the proposed amendments and the fact that the Charitable Associations and Civil Society Organisations Law No. 1 of 2000, which was ratified by the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) as one of the most advanced laws in the Arab region. Several position papers issued by Palestinian human rights organisations indicate that the amendments hamper the independence of civil society and violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 20) and The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 22).

The law will result in restricting civic space in the following ways:

  • hindering the right of assembly and organisation and the right to exercise activities independent of ministries and the executive authority.
  • transferring CSOs to ministry branches, which will remove the roles of the boards of directors of these CSOs.
  • The law by decree targets the amendment to Article 13 of the original law regarding certified administrative and financial reports, which the associations must present to the relevant ministry by a date no more than four months from the end of the fiscal year. It added a new provision to the text that obliges associations to present to the relevant ministries an “annual action plan and estimated budget for the new fiscal year in line with the ministry’s plan.” This means that CSOs will be working for the said ministry and not in accordance with their own vision, mission, goals or programmes. In other words, it deals with CSOs as government departments under ministries, and who must take orders from them, even though these ministries do not have any published plan and have never discussed with CSOs any plan in this regard.
  • The amendment also stipulates that employee salaries and running costs of any said association or commission cannot exceed 25% of the overall annual budget. This means that the executive authority is now in control of CSO budgets and their provisions, how they are distributed, their ceiling within the overall budget and the total of their expenses. This will result in civic work becoming more like contracting and commercial projects, aimed at stripping them of their national, rights-oriented core work and opens the door to placing Palestinian civic work under the guardianship of Israeli and international institutions working in the occupied territory. Furthermore, the provisions of the law by decree, which granted the government the power to issue regulations on conditions for funding, reveals its attempts to override and dissolve CSOs, with the Ministry of Interior taking over this task and assigning their moveable and immovable assets and contacts to the general treasury in unconstitutional seizures.
  • The law by decree includes, in Article 6 - which amended Article 40 of the Associations’ Law - a new provision (No 2) stipulating that “The Cabinet shall issue a system in which it determines the fees to be paid by the association and CSO for any new applications submitted to the Ministry (Ministry of Interior), if they are not included in the fees mentioned in the law.” This amendment is also in violation of the Basic Law (constitution), particularly Article 88, which stipulates that “the imposition of general taxes and fines, their amendments or cancellation, will only be carried out by law…” Hence, constitutionally, it is not permitted to collect fees from CSOs through a system created by the Cabinet.

Based on this analysis, CSOs in Palestine reject the Law by Decree No. 7 of 2021 regarding the amendment to the Charitable Associations and Civil Society Organisations Law, and demand its immediate cancellation. The statement also calls on the UN Special Rapporteur regarding the right to form associations, on the impacts of the amended associations’ law and its effect on the right to form associations in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Targeting of HRDs

On 22nd March 2021, the Military Court of Offer sentenced human rights defender (HRD) Issa Amro to a three-month suspended sentence with a two-year probation period, and a fine of 3,500 NIS (approximately 900 Euros). He faces possible imprisonment if he is found participating in peaceful demonstrations during the probation period.

Whereas the human rights defender’s situation, along with others attending demonstrations, remains a key concern, on 19th March 2021, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Man, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies sent a joint submission to United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. The input by the organisations highlighted Israel’s use of administrative detention against Palestinians, without charge or trial, for indefinite periods of time on the grounds of “secret information” to which neither they nor their legal counsel have access. The submission recommended the recognition of administrative detention as a form of psychological torture inflicted on Palestinians, including HRDs, as detainees are subjected to detention without fair trial guarantees, as well as the indefinite period of detention, where orders can be renewed every six months, indefinitely.

“Palestinian civil society organisations and human rights defenders have endured systematic intimidation, including death threats, arbitrary arrests, travel bans, residency revocation and deportation, in an attempt to further restrict civic space, delegitimize, oppress, and dominate them. Israel’s policy of prolonged detention and imprisonment of Palestinians also aims to tear the Palestinian social fabric and rupture family and community ties, which form an important part of solidarity movements.”

Expression

MADA Center documentation indicates a decline in the number of violations in Palestine, with 21 violations in February 2021, compared to a total of 37 violations during January 2021. The violations include:

  • Assault on photographers Nasser Shtayyeh and Majdi Shtayyeh and preventing them and journalists Adel Abu Nimah, Zahir Abu Hussein and the Palestine TV crew from media coverage.
  • Detention of journalists Ali Smudi and Sakhr Zawatiya, inspection of their equipment, preventing them from covering a demolition operation that was carried out in the village of Tora in the Jenin governorate.
  • Preventing journalists Mashhour al-Wahwah, Ma'mun wzwuz, Musab Shawar, Ihab al-Alami, Musa al-Qawasmi, Wissam al-Hashlamoun, and Sari Jaradat from covering demolitions carried out in the Hebron governorate.
  • Facebook banned writer Lama Abdul-Muttalib Khater from publishing, communicating or interacting on her Facebook page for 30 days, and live broadcasts for three months. The ban comes under the pretext of violating Facebook standards for publishing which related to a post she published in 2012 about the Israeli war on Gaza.
  • Director and journalist George Canawati of "Bethlehem 2000" radio station was verbally attacked and threatened by the director of Beit Sahour municipality, who claimed that Canawati had posted comments on Facebook that were directed at him.
  • The Israeli occupation forces prevented a group of journalists from covering a demolition carried out in southern Hebron in the West Bank and detained them.

As documented by the Coalition for Women in Journalism (CFWIJ), on 20th November 2021, radio journalist and anchor Aseel Soliman was threatened with expulsion for expressing her opinion about the new approach to normalising relations with Israel. The broadcaster’s management suspended the journalist, launched an investigation into the episode and removed that particular episode from its website. It was reported that the journalist and her father faced threats of detention in an attempt to intimidate them.

On the other hand, the Annual Report for 2020 issued by Mada Center sheds light on the situation of various key civic space components including press freedom, legal and societal restrictions on press freedom, independence of media work, diversity of content, self-censorship and government procedures, financing policies, transparency and access to information, and self-regulation of journalists and their protection and indicates that "government policies are still lacking real measures that would enhance press freedom in Palestine". While the decrease in the number of violations should be noted, the annual report concludes thatthere has been no change regarding the right to access information law, judicial protection for press freedom is still weak and passive, and self-censorship continues to severely limit freedom of the press.