Recent Developments in the Situation of Palestinian and Israeli Human Rights Defenders – December 2021
HRDs Struggle Against Military and Settlers’ Violence and Harassments
As the occupation continues, and more and more settlements and unauthorized outposts are built in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt), we are seeing an increase in settlers’ and military violence, directed both at Palestinians and at Israeli and Palestinian Human Rights Defenders (HRDs). While this is the case in all the oPt, the South Hebron Hills villages have recently been exposed to severe violence and Human Rights (HR) violations.
Many different methods are used to deter HRDs from continuing their important work in the oPt: detentions, severe violence, and personal targeting of prominent HRDs, all intended at creating a chilling effect and preventing further HR activities and peaceful protests.
Some of these methods are also used to signal to Palestinians that they are unwanted in area C – and slowly but surely push them out of the area. This is an unacceptable new development in handling the occupation, banned by international law.
HRDF will continue to stand in solidarity with HRDs, protecting Palestinians’ basic human rights, and will make every effort to ensure that Palestinians living in area C can continue to live and work on their lands.
Combatants for Peace Activists Arrested While Protesting Against Israel’s policy of Drying Up Area C
Combatants for Peace activists have planned to bring to the Hamamdeh community in the South Hebron Hills a water tanker as a protest against the Israeli policy of preventing the Palestinians in area C from connecting to the water supply. Note that they get water only three days a week, and none is available for their use in the four remaining days.
On September 17th, 2021, as the HRDs arrived at the ground, Israeli soldiers claimed that the area was declared a “closed military zone”, without presenting the HRDs with a warrant and a map, as required. The army dispersed the activists, using shock grenades and massive use of force. One HRD was thrown against a rock and needed medical treatment, including an operation to treat broken bones in his face. Eight HRDs were detained; two were released on the ground and six were brought to Hebron police station, where they were held for about seven hours.
HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Riham Nassra gave pre-investigation legal counseling to four of the detainees, and advised them to demand their immediate release, as they were being detained illegally for over three hours.
Eventually, all six detainees were released without being investigated and with no conditions but were summoned for questioning later that week.
It appears that the illegal detention of the HRDs and the severe acts of violence against them meant to deter them and others from continuing their HR work.
Photograph by Combatants for Peace
On September 28th, 2021, Israeli and Palestinian HRDs Hussein Hureini, Muhammad Hureini, Ariel Bernstein, and Tal Sagi accompanied children from Tuba village on their way to school in A-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills.
The childrens’ route to school is extremely dangerous because of reoccurring acts of violence directed against them by settlers from the nearby unauthorized outpost Maon Farm. Although the Knesset has ordered the military, back in 2004, to accompany the children to and from school every day – the military has not fully complied and is accompanying them only on part of the route. The children would therefore be left, on its unaccompanied part, to the mercy of the settlers, were it not for the groups of HRDs who accompany them regularly too and from the point where the military meets them.
On that day, the military declared the road to school in A-Tuwani village a closed military zone, thus preventing the HRDs from accompanying the children. The soldiers did not follow the proper procedure for such a declaration and even detained activists before presenting them with the warrant and the map as required.
Hussein Hureini and Muhammad Hureini were detained even though they are residents of A-Tuwani, and therefore exempt from the warrant. All four HRDs were taken to Hebron police station and investigated for entering a closed military zone and disturbing soldiers on duty.
HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Riham Nassra gave then pre-investigation counseling; the Palestinian HRDs were released unconditionally because they were arrested on their private land, while the Israeli HRDs were released under a 15-days ban from A-Tuwani village.
It seems that these detentions were used to prevent the HRDs from performing their essential activity, of protecting the childrens’ basic right to education. This is another example of how Palestinian’s daily life is jeopardized, and even their most basic human rights are sacrificed for, so-called, security reasons.
On the morning of December 01st, 2021, an Israeli settler arrived running to Mufaqara village, claiming that he was running for sport. The Palestinian villagers asked him to leave the place and not enter the village and even called the police. Later, the same settler arrived at A-Tuwani. At the entrance to the village, the settler met two Palestinians, and an argument erupted between them following the settler’s presence there.
At the same time, HRDs Yahaly Tzelik, Matan Berner-Kadish and Yasmin Eran-Vardi, who live and volunteer at A-Tuwani, arrived in their car and saw the clash. They asked the settler to leave the place, as it was Palestinian land. At the same time, a police car approached the scene.
The settler talked with the policemen, and they requested the HRDs to leave the place. Several hours later, the HRDs were asked to get to the police station to give testimony on the incident as witnesses. Yahaly and Matan were questioned and released, but Yasmin was interrogated on suspicion of disrupting the investigation and of not helping a person in need (the settler, who claimed to have been physically attacked). She was released under a 15-days ban from the area.
Suddenly, and with no change of evidence or circumstances – the police turned all three HRDs into suspects of shared attack, disruption of the investigation, and the severe charge of not preventing a crime. The three were then re-interrogated and detained.
Later, the police raided the apartment in which the HRDs were staying, conducted an invasive search, and confiscated computers, phones, cameras, and a car – without a warrant and without giving the tenants a list of what they took.
The HRDs were represented by HRDF-funded lawyers, Adv. Michal Pomeranz and Adv. Riham Nassra. At their detention hearing, on December 02nd, 2021, after it turned out that the HRDs are not suspected of assault but rather of disrupting the investigation and not preventing a felony – The Jerusalem Magistrates Court ruled that the three can be released to home custody under limiting conditions, instead of detention. The police prosecutor appealed to the District’s Court, and Adv. Pomeranz and Adv. Nassra counter-appealed on behalf of the HRDs.
The Jerusalem District Court rejected the police’s appeal and partially accepted the HRDs appeal. Their home-custody was lifted, as well as their ban from A-Tuwani, yet the rest of their release terms (5,000 NIS bail each, 5,000 NIS deposit each, and a ban from contacting the other involved parties for two weeks) were retained.
Israeli Activist Confronting Soldiers in Masafer Yata. Photograph by Basel Al-Adra
On September 28th, 2021, settlers have invaded Mufaqara village in the South Hebron Hills, attacked Palestinians, broke cars’ windshields and private homes’ doors and windows. As a result of the settlers’ attack, a three-year-old boy was severely hurt on his head and needed hospitalization. The military forces which arrived at the village did not arrest any of the attacking settlers but arrested one Palestinian.
The detainee, Naim Hamamda, was arrested near his house, after being attacked by soldiers. In the footage documenting his arrest, a soldier is clearly seen running towards him and knocking him to the ground for no reason. He was then brought to Hebron police station and investigated for assaulting a soldier and damaging a military vehicle. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Riham Nassra gave him pre-investigation counseling, and he was released under a 500 NIS deposit.
Settlers Attack Mufaqara Village while Soldiers Watch. Photograph by Basel Al-Adra
Muhammad Amirah is a prominent HRD from Ni’lin village, who believes in non-violent opposition to the occupation, and was one of the leaders of the weekly protest in his village against the separation wall and the theft of Palestinian lands. Due to his activities, Amirah was arrested and indicted several times.
On September 13th, 2021, at about 3 AM, the military broke into Amirah’s house, searched the place, confiscated all the phones and computers in the house, and arrested him.
Only nine hours after his arrest, Amirah was interrogated for burning tires, threatening the security in the area, incitement, and arson. At his hearing at the military court, the police asked for nine days detention, claiming that he had burnt tires and threw them over the separation wall and that he had cheered the escape of the six Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prison. The police based their claims on arbitrary video footage, and the Military Court agreed to the detention request even though Amirah could not be recognized on the video.
HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Riham Nassra immediately filed an appeal, which was accepted by the Military Court for Appeals – and Amirah was released under a financial deposit and a commitment to present himself for further investigation/legal procedure.
This is yet another example of arresting a prominent HRD as a way of deterrence to prevent him from doing important HR work. This is only one of the many practices that the state uses to make Palestinian life in area C miserable and difficult to bear, attempting, as mentioned earlier, to ‘cleanse’ the area of Palestinians and create a Jewish majority there.
On October 11th, 2021, three HRDs were violently arrested by the Israeli Army, while assisting Palestinian families in their yearly olive harvest near Salfit village in the oPt, allegedly for entering a closed military zone and assaulting a soldier.
All three HRDs: Israelis Gil Hamerschlag and David Shalev, and Palestinian Muhammed Khatib, were represented by the HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Riham Nassra gave them legal counseling before their police interrogations.
Read more to see how these arrests illustrate the fundamentals of apartheid that underlie the Israeli military occupation regime of the OPT.
Muhammed Khatib Pushed by Israeli Soldiers. Photograph by Matan Golan
Seven Palestinian Journalists Arrested in South Hebron Hills
On August 27th, 2021, Israeli soldiers arrested seven Palestinian journalists who were covering a peaceful demonstration against the establishment of new outposts and settlers’ violence in south Hebron hills. The journalists were arrested, and their equipment confiscated, as they were heading to their cars, shortly after the protest was over, even though they identified themselves to the soldiers as journalists.
Two of them claimed that they were attacked and beaten by the soldiers during the arrest. Another journalist fainted in the police station and was taken to a hospital by ambulance.
Read more about the Israeli attempt to prevent media coverage of Palestinian peaceful protests and crimes of the Israeli occupation.
An Achievement in Sheikh Jarrah: Waving a Palestinian Flag does not Constitute for a Criminal Offence
On September 24th, during the weekly protest in Sheikh Jarrah, four protesters were violently arrested by police for waving Palestine flags.
Read more about the ongoing effort to protect Palestinian’s freedom of expression, and the state’s ongoing attempts to suppress protests against the eviction of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah.
Photograph by Matan Golan
State and Non-State Actors Attempt to Silence and Deter Individual HRDs
While the efforts of the Israeli authorities to criminalize peaceful opposition to the occupation persist, they are joined by individuals and intimidating organizations, which attempt to silence HRDs and create a chilling effect on them. HRDF is working with expert lawyers in various fields to make sure that every HRD is protected from these attacks. We hope to enable the HRDs to carry their work without interruption and with no fear.
Jerusalem Activists are Home-Searched, Detained and Investigated – for Graffiti Charges
Masafer Yatta is the name of an area in the South Hebron Hills which contains 12 Palestinian villages and was declared a firing zone (918) back in 1980. In 2013, ACRI and Adv. Shlomo Lecker petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ) to prevent the expulsion of the Palestinian residents of the area, and the proceedings are still pending. The Palestinians experience daily harassment and violence from the settlers and the army as well.
A group of dedicated HRDs decided in early November 2021 towards the next hearing at the HCJ, to raise awareness of the issue, and show solidarity with the villagers. The activists hung up posters explaining the situation with images of the villagers in various locations.
Following their activity, three HRDs were detained in Jerusalem. Adv. Riham Nassra gave the HRDs pre-investigation counseling and the three were released under a 15-day ban from central Jerusalem. Adv. Nassra appealed for cancelation of the terms of release but and the appeal was denied.
A few days later, after a group of right-wing activists followed the HRDs to their apartment, the police arrived in the middle of the night at the place and began interrogating the HRDs without informing them about their rights. HRDF funded-lawyer Adv. Nassra gave legal counseling to the HRDs, and the police officers left with no investigation subpoenas.
The next day, the police arrived at the apartment with search warrants, including a rare warrant to confiscate computer and technology materials. The police officers searched the entire apartment and confiscated several objects. Before leaving, the police officers issued investigation subpoenas to two HRDs. When HRD Oriel Eisner arrived at his scheduled investigation – he was arrested even though he did not participate in the activity. Adv. Nassra gave him legal counseling, and he was later released unconditionally.
Search warrants, illegal interrogations, arrests, and confiscation are not legitimate means to use against the alleged offenses. This is an extreme reaction demonstrating how the state acts to silence and deter HRDs who oppose the occupation. This politicized use of force is unacceptable, particularly in cases where the police act upon information provided by right-wing activists, which shows its lack of impartiality. HRDF will keep standing by HRDs exposed to such criminalization.
Palestinian Family in Masafer Yata. Photograph by Oren Ziv, Activestills
Palestinian Students at Ashkelon College Silenced during “Gate’s Keepers” Operation
Two Palestinian nursing students were suspended from Ashkelon college for one year after expressing their political views regarding the war in Gaza: one did it on the students’ ‘WhatsApp’ group, and the other on her private Instagram account.
HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Shahda Ibn Bari, appealed on their behalf to the College Discipline Committee, claiming that its ruling was a severe violation of their freedom of speech and an act of selective enforcement by the academic disciplinary rules (as none of the Jewish students who took part in the discussion were accused of discipline offenses). As a result of the appeal, the college decided to revoke the expulsion of both students.
This is an outrageous example of a civilian attempt to silence HRDs who oppose the actions of the state of Israel. The Ashkelon college used its institutional power to oppress and limit freedom of expression, in an unacceptable ruling. HRDF sees great importance in protecting the Palestinian students’ right to Freedom of Speech, especially in periods of tension and violence and after being provoked by their peers.
Iris Gur is a high school principal, employed by the Ministry of Education. On June 20th, 2021, Gur received a letter inviting her to a hearing at the Ministry, following posts that she posted on her private Facebook page encouraging insubordination and opposing the occupation. The hearing subpoena also stated that she “participated in an activity of vandalism against Jewish farmers in the Jordan Valley” – referring to an activity of Combatants for Peace that Gur participated in, where peace activists cut fences built by settlers on Palestinian land.
Gur was informed that her statements were unacceptable due to their political nature, especially her use of a photographic frame indicating her wish to see that Bibi Netanyahu is not chosen to be PM again. According to the material provided by the Ministry of Education, a well-known right-wing activist Shay Glick was the source of the “information” against Gur and the demand for her disciplinary hearing. It should be noted that Gur has expressed these opinions while on unpaid leave, and not on duty as an active school principal.
In October 2021, HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Michael Sfard, submitted in writing her response to the accusations which led to the hearing. He claimed that the action of the Ministry of Education will create a chilling effect and prevent teachers and educators from expressing their opinions. Adv. Sfard asked Gur’s hearing to be canceled, as there was no disciplinary misconduct, and in any case, it was not appropriate to pursue a disciplinary hearing under these circumstances.
We are still waiting for the response of the Ministry of Education. HRDF will continue to stand against any attempts to personally silence HRDs and persecute them for their legitimate opinions.
A Village in Masafer Yata. Photograph by Keren Manor, Activestills
SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) Violating Freedom of Speech Online
Last December, we updated on a recent trend of unprecedented and concentrated efforts to delegitimize and restrict the struggle against the occupation through civil proceedings, and specifically by SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). SLAPPs are usually filed by right-wing NGOs and/or individuals against human rights defenders who oppose the occupation. Most of these lawsuits, which are based on testimonies and reports (usually on social media) of HRDs, are filed for defamation, and violation of privacy or copyrights.
This year, we continued to see an increase in the number of such lawsuits, intended to block public debate, and particularly to silence and stigmatize defenders by creating a chilling effect to prevent them from dealing with those issues in the future.
Shay Glick vs. Emek Shaveh
In October 2020, serial plaintiff Shai Glick (mentioned above in Iris Gur’s case), who is infamous for harassing and persecuting HRDs, sued Emek-Shaveh, an NGO working to defend cultural heritage rights, and fighting against the use of archaeological sites by Israel as a political tool in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Glick is well connected to Knesset and Government officials and had previously succeeded to shut down cultural institutions and events, which he deemed as anti-Israeli. The lawsuit, asking for compensation of ILS 100,000, was filed following a discussion concerning construction in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, on the Emek-Shaveh’s Facebook page. Glick, who joined the discussion, was accused by the page administrator of “spreading lies” and not long after that, he filed the defamation lawsuit.
On July 8th, 2021, Glick’s 100,000 ILS defamation lawsuit ended in a settlement. The settlement, recognized by the court’s ruling, acknowledged that political disagreements should take place in the public sphere, rather than in court. It was also agreed that Emek Shaveh, which was represented by HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Itay Mack, would not be required to pay any damages to Glick.
It should be noted that in a previous HRDF case in 2019, Glick was ordered by the court to publish a Facebook post acknowledging that he should not file lawsuits to resolve political arguments and that such arguments should be arbitrated in the public sphere. Nevertheless, Glick continues to harass human rights NGOs and activists in order to exhaust them with ongoing lawsuits and court proceedings.
Elimelekh Kerzen vs. Emek Shaveh
On August 18th, 2021, Emek Shaveh NGO received a notice before legal action for violating the copyrights of Elimelekh Kerzen. Emek Shaveh posted in their Twitter account a photo by Kerzen, who claimed to be the manager of the Cave of the Patriarchs. The NGO captioned the photograph: “the works to build an escalator in the Cave of the Patriarchs started yesterday”. The notice letter demanded that Emek Shaveh delete the photo and pay 50,000 NIS in compensation – otherwise the NGO will be sued by Kerzen for 100,000 NIS.
On August 23rd, 2021, HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Renen Ziv replied to the notice claiming that the photo was used in good faith, not knowing that it was taken by one of the site workers. Adv. Ziv also mentioned that the Twit and the photo were removed by Emek Shaveh when they got the notice. Kerzen’s lawyer replied asking for a compensation of 10,000 NIS, and finally, the parties agreed to settle on the compensation of 2,500 NIS.
Given the identity of the plaintiff and the content of the notice letter, it seems that the plaintiff intended to silence Emek Shaveh and prevent their work. This is only one out of many illegitimate actions which right-wing activists commit, trying to silence, harass, and de-legitimize human rights NGOs and their workers.
Avihai Shorshan vs. Kerem Navot
Kerem Navot is an NGO “that monitors and researches Israeli land policy in the West Bank”. They were sued by right-wing activist Avihai Shorshan for publishing a photo of his illegal house in the settlement of Kfar-Adumim, in 2017.
On June 24th, 2020, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled that Kerem Navot will compensate Shorshan by 18,000 ILS, plus 5,500 NIS court expenses. The compensation was imposed after the court ruled that a Facebook post, comprising a picture of the settler along with a photo of his house, an aerial shot of the house, and a text claiming the house to be illegal, constitutes a violation of privacy. In his lawsuit, the right-wing activist, who is a known advocate for the demolition of alleged illegal Bedouin villages, such as Khan al-Ahmar, was demanding a compensation of 120,000 ILS.
HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Itai Mack, submitted an appeal to the District Court, stating the dangerous precedents which the judge set: that the illegality of the house is not of “significant public interest”, and that even though the information was received following a “Freedom of Information Request” – it is not public information, and its publication could therefore give rise to a violation of privacy.
On September 23rd, 2021, the Jerusalem District Court overruled the Magistrates Court decision. The judge ruled that information received following a “Freedom of Information Request” is public and highlighted the importance of exposing illegalities, overruling the Magistrates Court decision that the post of Kerem Navot’s constituted a breach of privacy. Therefore, Kerem Navot’s appeal was attained, while Shorshan’s counter-appeal (regarding the sum of compensation) was denied. The court ordered Shorshan to pay Kerem Navot 7,500 NIS of court expenses.
This is an immense victory for Kerem Navot and for the HRDs acts of exposing illegalities and providing accurate information to the public. The District Court’s ruling reasserts the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of information. This is extremely important, primarily in order to maintain an engaging public discourse regarding the illegality of settlements and settlers’ accountability.
HRDF and its dedicated lawyers will continue to stand by HRDs and ensure that they receive their full basic human rights, and can continue their important work, despite a continuous attempt to deter them and impede their work.
The Balfour Demonstrations
On July 14th, 2020, HRD Gilly Levy participated in one of the Balfour demonstrations, against the corruption of the former PM, Bibi Netanyahu. During the demonstration, he was violently attacked by Aryeh King, the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem. King also incited the audience and called for the use of violence against the protestors. Levy filed an official complaint, which was not investigated. Even after HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Michal Pomeranz filed a demand to investigate this case – the case was closed with no investigation whatsoever.
Therefore, a request to receive the materials of the investigation has been filed, and Adv. Pomeranz appealed the decision to close the case. In October 2021, the State Attorney informed Adv. Pomeranz that they have decided to accept the appeal, and the case was returned to the police for reinvestigation.
HRDF and Adv. Pomeranz will follow closely to see that the case is being investigated thoroughly, and hopefully, justice will be done by indicting King for his alleged attack.
Extinction Rebellion Israel
On September 10th, 2021, Extinction Rebellion Israel organized a demonstration in front of the Brazilian Embassy in Tel-Aviv, as part of the global Extinction Rebellion Movement. The protest was against the Brazilian government policies and rules which allow corporations to continue destroying the Amazonian forests rapidly while denying indigenous rights to the inhabitants of the area.
As part of the demonstration, some participants glued one of their hands to the floor in front of the embassy’s door, to prevent the embassy from opening its doors to the public. After the HRDs did not obey the police requirement to leave the place, six of them were arrested and taken to the police station. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Asaf Weitzen visited them at the police station and gave them pre-interrogation legal counseling. After their interrogations, all the HRDs were released under a two-week ban from the embassy.
This arrest was meant to deter the HRDs from continuing their activity against the destructive policies of an oppressive regime and create a chilling effect on their activity. HRDF will continue to stand with HRDs who work to protect the environmental rights of humanity, indigenous rights, and protest governments ignoring climate change.
Photograph by Haggai Matar, Local Call
The Struggle for Lands Right in the Negev-Naqab: Criminalizing Bedouins
On November 24th, 2021, an appeal hearing was scheduled before the Beer-Sheva District Court, on the case of the criminalization of Bedouin HRDs from the unrecognized village of Al- ‘Arāgīb in the Negev-Naqab.
The appeal considered the decision of the Magistrate’s court to convict and imprison three members of the Abu Madhi’m A-Turi family. The four HRDs were convicted of three charges earlier in 2019: trespass with intent to commit an offense, violation of lawful directives, and unlawful entry to public land. The family members were sentenced to various prison terms (or community service in the case of Sheikh Sayah, due to his age and health condition), and extremely high fines, ranging between ILS 12,000-30,000 each, and ILS 77,000 in total, were imposed on them.
While the case has great public importance, the prosecution did not come prepared to the appeal hearing – they have not read the defense’s pleading, nor have they submitted their own. Therefore, the court could not have ruled on the matter, and a new hearing will be scheduled.
HRDF will continue to update on this matter. We invite you to attend the next discussion (TBD) and to show solidarity with the Bedouin indigenous communities of the Negev-Naqab, in their nonviolent struggle to live on their lands.
HRDF stands in solidarity with all Palestinian human rights defenders who are targeted by Israel due to their work, and will keep supporting them, to guarantee that they are able to continue their legitimate human rights work without fear of persecution and reprisals.
We welcome your interest and support. If you have any further questions regarding these and other matters please contact: [email protected]