Calls for #UNInvestigateApartheid as Israel attempts to silence civil society groups at UN

Calls for #UNInvestigateApartheid as Israel attempts to silence civil society groups at UN
Palestinian diplomat Dima Asfour at the 45th session of the UNHRC (Photo Credit: UNWebTV).

Association

During the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Palestinian human rights organisations, through a joint statement, shed light on the systematic violations taking place due to the Israeli occupations. Palestinian organisations stated that such occupations were aimed at silencing their activities, including their advocacy work at the United Nations. The statement by the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and Al Haq, Law in the Service of Man noted the attacks against human rights organisations.

“Within the context of this campaign, Al Mezan’s staff have endured death threats and intimidation, hacked emails, movement restrictions and deportation, defamation and incitement, harassment on UN premises, and other acts of reprisal.”

"These attacks form part of the protracted smear and intimidation campaign aimed at undermining the work and credibility of Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organisations and defenders; deterring donors and defunding organisations, and at ultimately preventing critical human rights organisations from implementing their international law-based mandates."

The silencing of civil society organsations (CSOs) by Israeli occupation took place at the United Nations. On 1st October 2020, Israel attempted to silence civil society groups at the UNHRC for condemning its imposition of apartheid on the Palestinian people. Taking the floor through a point of order to interrupt a joint statement by human rights groups, Israel accused NGOs of inappropriate language that contradicts UN standards. In response to this attempt, Nada Awad, International Advocacy Officer of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies stated:

Israel’s attempt to stifle freedom of expression on this issue will not change the facts – Israel’s policies toward the Palestinian people clearly meet the legal definition of apartheid and should be treated as such by the United Nations and its Member States.

This attempt comes as a global letter signed by 452 civil society groups worldwide, as part of a global campaign, called on the UN to take responsibility for investigating and eradicating Israeli apartheid. In the letter CSOs called on the UN and all its member states to launch international investigations into Israel’s apartheid regime over the Palestinian people as well as associated state and individual criminal responsibility, through reconstituting the UN Special Committee against Apartheid and the UN Centre Against Apartheid to end apartheid in the 21st century.

Palestinian CSOs also organised a global week of action from 22nd to 28th September during the UN General Assembly (UNGA), using the hashtag #UNInvestigateApartheid on social media.

Attacks on HRDs

In addition, Israel’s judicial harassment of human rights defenders (HRDs) continue to take place. On 3rd September 2020, Salah Hamouri, a Franco-Palestinian lawyer who works with Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association (Addameer) in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was summoned and given a letter informing him that his permanent residence card in Jerusalem was being revoked based on his “hostile activities against the state of Israel”. In a statement issued, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), a partnership of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), noted that Hamouri has been harassed for years and was arbitrarily detained several times by Israeli authorities because of his peaceful human rights activities.

On 30th September 2020, Palestinian and regional organisations sent a joint appeal to the UN Special Procedures on the imminent risk of forcible transfer or deportation of Hamouri. The letter also addressed six UN Special Rapporteurs, including the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory, requesting urgent intervention.

In a separate development, Amnesty International called on Israeli authorities to release Palestinian human rights defender (HRD) Mahmoud Nawajaa, the General Coordinator of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) in Palestine. On 30th July 2020, at around 3.30am, Israeli forces raided Nawajaa’s home in the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank and arrested him. His wife reports that no reasons were given by the Israeli forces for her husband’s arrest. Nawajaa has been denied access to a lawyer or contact with his family since the arrest. On 2nd August 2020 Nawajaa’s detention was extended by 15 days. On appeal by his lawyer, his sentence was reduced to eight days. On 17th August 2020, Nawajaa was released.

Peaceful Assembly

Many of the protests which took place during the reporting period were due to the normalisation agreements signed between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain and the Israeli occupation forces. Palestinians protested in several cities including Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarm and Hebron holding signs that denounced the agreements and the Arab normalisation of relations with Israel.

The Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) issued a statement noting that the continuation of normalisation steps and the signing of peace accords with the Israeli occupation state heralds the disintegration of the Arab position concerning the Palestinian cause. ANND condemned the normalisation agreements, specifically when the occupation has been persistently implementing its aggressive policies against the Palestinian people who have been besieged in the Gaza Strip. It called on all Arab CSOs to reject these deals and boycott the occupation on all levels while increasing their solidarity with the Palestinian people and supporting their resilience against the occupation.

Expression

Despite COVID-19 and its impact on public activities, there has been an increase in violations against journalists and media outlets while covering Palestinian activities. The Palestinian Center for Development & Media Freedoms “MADA” documented a total of 31 violations in September 2020 compared to only 11 documented during August 2020. This is in addition to the increase in the number of Palestinian violations that took place in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The cases documented include:

  • Palestine TV camera operator Fadi Yasine was assaulted by Occupation soldiers while he was covering a demonstration against the settlement.
  • Camera operator and director of An-Najah TV, Kanan Sabri Kanan was subjected to a series of summonses and detention after he was questioned about his work for An-Najah TV by the Palestinian Preventive Security Services.
  • Journalist Ahmed Al-Borsh was summoned by the General Investigations in Jabalia, northern Gaza about his posts on social media including Facebook, which addressed the poor economic conditions, extreme poverty and unemployment rates of citizens of Gaza.
  • Journalist Kholoud Fatafta was prevented by Palestinian forces from filming a march organised by the “Mass Mobilisation to bring down CEDAW” in Ramallah.
  • Facebook shut down the pages of journalist Imad Ali Issa Jabreen, without any prior notification. In addition, the “Taqou Al-Hadath” Page, a socio-political news page and the “Ultra Palestine” page were also shut down.
  • Journalist Osama Shaheen was arrested at his home by the Occupation Army and transferred a few days later to administrative detention for four months.
  • The Palestinian police prevented a group of journalists from covering a protest sit-in and a press conference for a group of judges and lawyers in front of the courts in Al-Bireh City.
  • Journalist Abdelmuhsen Shalaldah and his cameraman were arrested by occupation forces following a raid on his home.
  • Journalist Mahmoud Fawzi Abdelghani was injured by a gunshot while covering the peaceful march against settlement in Kufr Qadoum.
  • Several journalists were assaulted by the occupation soldiers and settlers while covering an event organised by the national forces and events to plant trees in the lands of Asira Al-Qibliya village in Nablus, which is threatened with confiscation.
  • Journalist Ameen Khaled Al-Hajeen was arrested by the Internal Security in Gaza Strip after he was summoned.
  • Journalist Samer Khwaira was summoned and questioned about his posts by the Palestinian Preventive Security.
  • Journalist Mujahed Mardawi was arrested by occupation authorities on his way back from Malaysia where he was completing his studies.
  • Photojournalist Nidal Ishtayya was shot with two metal bullets by the occupation soldiers while he was covering a demonstration against settlement in Kufr Qadoum.
  • Journalists Adel Abu Nema and Nasser Ishtayya were threatened with confiscation by soldiers in Asira Al-Qibliya, south of Nablus, during their coverage of a tree-planting event.
  • The occupation forces seized a vehicle of Palestine TV in Yarza Village, Tubas, while the TV staff was covering the demolition of one of the houses by the Israeli Occupation.

On 30th September, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) issued a press release to condemn the confiscation of a Palestine TV vehicle by Israeli security forces (see above) under the pretext that the crew was in a closed military zone in the Jordan Valley, east of Tubas. PCHR stated this was a continuation of a "systematic policy against press crews, and Palestinian and international media agencies operating in the OPT.”

In addition to the above cases, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed concern about the arrest of Palestinian freelance journalist Tareq Abu Zeid by Israeli security forces. On 1st October 2020 security forces raided Abu Zeid’s home, seizing his cell phone and computer, and arresting him. On 4th October 2020 Abu Zeid’s detention was extended for nine days.

“We condemn the Israeli authorities’ habit of arresting journalists without informing them of the reasons. Authorities should either disclose the charges against Tareq Abu Zeid or release him immediately,” - CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa representative, Ignacio Miguel Delgado.

In relation to freedom of speech, access to information is closely monitored by CSOs in Palestine as well. New research by The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media (7amleh) documented that 72 per cent of Palestinians have been exposed to fake news and that the Israeli authorities are the main source of fake news, contributing to 54 per cent. The study also reveals that the problem of fake news is on the rise during the COVID-19 crisis.

On 28th September 2020, the International Day for the Right to Access Information, "MADA" called for the adoption of the Law on the Right to Access Information. The study by MADA noted that 57% of journalists have not seen any of the draft laws on the right to access information that were proposed and have been under discussion for years. While access to information is key for civil society engagement, another study by PNGO revealed that during the COVID-19 crisis, social media constituted a large area of influence and dominated the news, especially in relation to false and fabricated information, which had an impact on the information obtained by the general public.