By Omar Shakir | Israel and Palestine Director, Middle East and North Africa Division | @OmarSShakir | –
( Human Rights Watch ) –
Three years ago, as the Israeli government prepared to deport me from Israel and Palestine over my human rights advocacy, I wrote in The Forward that, should the deportation proceed without sanction from the international community, it could provide a greenlight for authorities to “further restrict or even shut down the work of Israeli and Palestinian rights defenders.”
Israeli authorities deported me in November 2019. They faced no meaningful consequence. And now they are carrying out an unprecedented all-out assault on human rights advocates, which Palestinians are bearing the brunt of.
On August 18, Israeli authorities raided the offices of seven prominent Palestinian civil society organizations, seizing documents, printers, and computers, welding the doors shut, and issuing closure orders against the organizations. This follows the Israeli government’s move last year to outlaw the groups, designating them as “terrorist” organizations under Israeli law, and as “unlawful associations” under military law, which is applicable in the occupied West Bank. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s confirmed many of these designations on August 17, though several groups still have a pending challenge against the terrorism designation.
In a separate incident, on the evening of August 6, Israeli authorities detained Nasser Nawaja, a field researcher for the Israeli rights group B’Tselem. He was taken from his home in Susiya, a Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank that Israel has repeatedly razed. Israeli authorities handcuffed, blindfolded, and held Nawaja incommunicado for more than 12 hours, according to B’Tselem. Israeli officers eventually questioned him about his work, accusing him of, “causing all the trouble in the area,” and asked him to stop “causing trouble” before releasing him.
These moves are aimed at thwarting human rights monitoring and punishing those who criticize Israel’s apartheid and the persecution of millions of Palestinians. Much of the international community, including many European states, has rejected Israel’s outrageous claims against these Palestinian organizations.
But tepid statements won’t stop Israel’s repression. States should call clearly for the Israeli government to reverse its designations and to allow human rights groups to carry out their vital work unhindered. They should make clear that they will impose meaningful consequences on the Israeli government should it fail to do so.
We’re ringing the alarm bell. We’re facing the very real prospect that widely respected rights defenders will be imprisoned, and their assets seized. The international community must act before it’s too late. The fate of human rights advocacy in Israel and Palestine may well hang in the balance.