Recent Developments in the Situation of Palestinian and Israeli Human Rights Defenders – December 2022
Rising Settlers’ Violence in the West Bank
West Bank: The case of Hafez Huraini
On Monday, September 12th, a violent incident took place in the oPt, near A-Tuwani village. Hafez Huraini, a prominent Palestinian HRD was quietly working his land when several settlers approached him carrying weapons – including an M16 gun – and threatened him. A violent incident pursued, and Huraini was injured in both his arms as a result of the attack. One of the settlers was also injured, as part of Huraini’s attempts to defend himself against the trespassing and severe violence inflicted upon him. Immediately after the incident, Palestinian and Israeli activists on the ground called the Israeli police; while Huraini was immediately detained, arrested and interrogated for attempted murder, the settlers remained free.
This is an outrageous accusation, not only as Huraini acted in self-defense upon the violent settler attack, but also because the settlers have trespassed into his private land. Following the incident, Huraini was arrested for 10 days, while the settlers remained free, and were not even interrogated until a week after the event. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Riham Nassra, represented him in all three arrest hearings in the military court before he was finally released on the night of Thursday, September 22nd, with release terms of a 10,000 NIS deposit, two bails of 5,000 NIS each, and a ban from his field where the incident has happened.
As of today, Huraini was not indicted for this incident – however, that does not mean he will not be indicted for it in the future. He recently went through surgery on his arm.
Please read more about this case here.
Hafez Huraini at his arrest hearing, with two hands broken. Photo by Oren Ziv, Local Call
Hagar Geffen and Michal Hai
On October 19th, 2022, in the Palestinian village Kissan near Betlehem, Israeli HRDs Hagar Geffen and Michal Hai, were violently attacked by settlers, as they were accompanying Palestinians during the olive harvest.
Every year in the fall, many Palestinian families go to harvest their olives; in the past years, given the rise in settler’s violence, they are assisted and accompanied by Palestinian, Israeli and international activists, as part of the “Faza’a” activity.
As the HRDs got near the field, settler youth began following them. When they reached the field to begin the activity, they saw that the olives were already stolen. Soon after, a group of masked settlers arrived and began throwing stones towards them and beat them using kicks and bats. Hagar, who is seventy years old, was severely hurt and had to be evicted to receive medical care. She was hospitalized with fractures in her shoulder and chest and with a broken rib.
Another HRD, Michal Hai, had begun filming the incident as the settlers approached them. Soon after, as she was trying to protect Hagar from the attackers, she was also attacked: the settlers beat her and stole her photography equipment. They also stole Geffen’s phone out of her bag, and her camera.
Even though there is clear documentation of some parts of the incident, to this date no suspects were arrested. At first, the police also did not contact Geffen to take her testimony; then, they called her and a few others for interrogation. Eventually Geffen was contacted to give her testimony, but the other activists were interrogated as suspects for causing a severe injury, and released with bail and a 15-day ban from the harvest area. Apparently, the settlers had submitted a complain on assault.
HRDF-funded lawyer, adv. Riham Nassra, represented the two HRDs. We will continue to follow this case.
Attack of Hagar Geffen by violent settlers.
Police Brutality by Proxy: Settlers’ Violence in Sheikh Jarrah
On the night between October 13th and 14th, a massive settler attack took place in Sheikh Jarrah. Starting at 9 pm and for about four hours, dozens of right-wing activists and settlers attacked the neighborhood violently, all while the police is present and not preventing it.
According to HRDs and the neighborhood residents, around one hundred settler youth took part in the attack. The police present on the ground did not try to stop the Israelis, however when some Palestinians started throwing stones in in self-defense, the policemen arrested them. In addition, MK Ben-Gvir – who is going to be the Minister for National Security in the forming government, came to the neighborhood and even pulled out his gun, to which the police did not respond either.
Throughout the night the police arrested ten Palestinian residents – including four minors; no Israelis were arrested. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Nasser Odeh represented nine of the ten arrestees, including the minors. On Friday, and after an arrest hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrates Court, one of the minors was released, and the other three were held in custody until Sunday.
However, regarding the five adult arrestees, the judge refused to have a full arrest hearing given the late time of day (close to Shabbat), despite Adv. Odeh’s objection. The judge had briefly looked at the material before deciding to release one of the arrestees; the rest remained in custody until Sunday. Later on that day, two more Palestinian were arrested – one of them a minor.
On Sunday, October 16th, the three minors were released to home arrest for five days, while the rest remained in detention for another two to three days.
One of the Palestinian residents of the neighborhood was interviewed to Local Call, and said: “the police gave them a green light to attack us, to do whatever they want, but we were hurt (by the police) with stun-grenades and the (policemen) came after us” (rough translation). Other activists have attested to the same thing, and there is also some video footage from the event showing policemen in the scene doing nothing to stop the Israeli violent attack. Some Sheikh Jarrah residents were hurt and needed medical care.
Only at 1 am, after hours of the attack – the police brought larger forces and dispersed the Israeli settlers.
While this settlers’ attack did not include direct police violence, standing around violent settlers and not stopping them from attacking Palestinians is, indeed, providing them with a ‘green light’ to their violent actions. This is police brutality by proxy, as the police is supposed to protect all people from intentional violent attacks against them, not according to political and ethnical distinctions.
Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah examining the damage to their cars after the nightly violence. Photo by Oren Ziv, Local Call
Military and Police Harassment of HRDs in the oPt
South Hebron Hills: Arrest of Palestinian Farmer while Working in His Field
Said Awaad is a Palestinian farmer and a prominent HRD who fights for the land rights of his local community in the South Hebron Hills. Since the area is exposed to harassment from settlers to the farmers who work in their fields, he is often accompanied by “Taayush” activists to prevent this harassment. On Saturday, November 12th, he was arrested by the military, allegedly for violating a closed military zone order. Even though this is a minor alleged offense, he was detained for 96 hours. On Tuesday, November 15th, his arrest hearing took place at the Ofer military court – a day earlier as per the defense’s request.
In the hearing, the police said that Awaad violates closed military zones repeatedly, and therefore asked to release him with a ban from the zone for 90 days, and bail. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Riham Nassra represented Awaad, and claimed that there was no reason to keep him in custody for so long for such a minor, and sole, offense. She also explained that Awaad was on his way to his field which is inside the closed zone; she presented a previous ruling of the supreme court, according to which the closing orders should be used to permit the family’s access to the grounds, and not prevent it.
As this kind of friction happens often in that area, Awaad is used to it and agreed to leave the premises – even though the closing order he was presented with was not relevant to that specific area. As he briefly approached the closed area to attend to one of his children, he was immediately arrested by the military. Adv. Nassra also added that while there is video footage taken by the Israeli “Taayush” activists, none of them were summoned to give their testimony to the police. Finally, adv. Nassra also claimed that the closing order was presented to Awaad on one of the soldiers’ phone, and not the original order as required.
After listening to the defense, the judge clearly stated that the fact that the closing order was only presented on the soldier’s phone means that no legal order was presented, and therefore the alleged offense of not obeying a legal order is irrelevant. He also mentioned that even though the order was with a wrong map – Awaad was physically prevented from reaching the ground, while settlers from a nearby illegal outpost were not prevented from reaching the exact same location.
The judge also criticized the police for not calling the witnesses who were present from the beginning to give their testimony. He also referred to the police claims, saying that if it is, indeed, a situation that repeats constantly – then the police should not intervene without a clear review of the legal situation. Given that the legal review was not done – the judge refused the police request for a banning order from the area. The judge has ordered Awaad’s release under terms of a personal bail of 1,000 NIS, and bail by an Israeli citizen of 20,000 NIS.
This is an outrageous situation, where even though the judge has accepted the defense claims, and agreed with Awaad regarding the unlawfulness of his arrest – he has still decided to release him under terms only, for no clear reason. This shows the bias of the military court system, where even when a Palestinian’s claims are accepted – he is still the one suffering restrictions to his freedom.
However, this is still a unique success in the military court, as it proves the amount of illegality in many of the military and police actions: presenting wrong orders; not presenting the original orders; disobeying previous supreme court decisions; not calling witnesses for testimony; and more, and all while allowing settlers to behave in exactly the same way for which the Palestinians are arrested.
While this incident was clearly documented, arrests of Palestinian farmers for similar reasons happen on a regular basis; this is a problem that needs to be treated from its root, both in terms of clarifying the legal situation and of holding the military and police accountable for their illegal actions and unjustified arrests.
Hebron: Severe Assault of HRDs by a Soldier
On Friday, November 25th, a group of Jewish activists arrived in Hebron for a political and solidarity tour. This tour was of religious Jews, who came to show solidarity with Palestinians after the brutal settlers’ attack which took place in Hebron the previous week during Shabat Hayei Sarah.
During the tour, there was a heavy military presence, and at some point, one of the soldiers began beating up one of the activists. Allegedly, he was trying to detain him, and then punched him in the face and continued beating him even when the activist was on the ground. As a result, the activist suffered from a fracture in his face. Another soldier threatened the activists, including Palestinian HRD Issa Amro who was filming the situation, and was filmed saying “Ben-Gvir is going to bring order, you’ve had it“.
The attack was in response to the soldiers deciding that the activists were “breaking the law” by standing in the street – even though Israelis, for example the settlers who live in Hebron – are allowed to walk in the street. When the activists asked what is the reason to prevent their passing, the soldiers began pushing them and tried to detain the activist who was then assaulted. The soldier who was filmed threatening the activists also said “You are doing everything against the law, I am the law“. Later, he also said: “I don’t like leftists, go away because you are leftists, I will break you“.
The threatening soldier was sentenced within his military unit to 10 days in military prison before the sentence was lowered to 6 days only. However, he was not interrogated by the Military Police Investigative Unit – meaning his actions were examined in a disciplinary hearing within his unit, but not through the military’s criminal procedure. The assaulting soldier was interrogated by the Military Police Investigative Unit, but so far he was not indicted for that incident.
The activist who was attacked and two others were detained after the assault, and their phones were confiscated by the police. All of them were released later that day, but summoned to interrogation again on Sunday, November 25th. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Riham Nassra gave legal counselling to the two activists who were not assaulted; after their interrogation, they were released to house arrest for five days and were banned from Hebron for 14-days. the activists were interrogated also for entering area A – even though the tour was in “Hebron 2”, where Israeli settlers live and it is considered area C.
On November 30th, 2022, Adv. Nassra represented the activists in front of the Magistrate’s Court in Jerusalem, in an appeal on their release terms. The activists were interrogated for allegedly assaulting soldiers, disturbing the soldiers, and disturbing public order. After a lengthy discussion regarding the necessity of house arrest for activists who were not violent, the judge has ruled that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the activists were involved in these offenses, and therefore the house arrest was legitimate. Therefore, the judge has rejected the appeal and left the terms of release – house arrest and bans – in order. The activists were released from house arrest the next day, December 1st at night.
At the same time, HRD Issa Amro was also arrested as a result of filming the incident on Friday. On Monday, November 28th, he was summoned for interrogation by the police. Prior to that, HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Riham Nassra provided him with legal advice. At the end of the interrogation, the police detained him until Wednesday, November 30th. The police interrogated Issa for the following crimes: assault of a soldier, obstructing a soldier, disturbing public order, and obstruction of a criminal investigation. The last count was added during the interrogation because Issa went to the police station without his cell phone (which he used to record the above-mentioned videos).
On Wednesday, Adv. Nassra represented Issa in his arrest hearing at the military court. The police asked the court to prolong his arrest by six days to complete their interrogation. From Adv. Nassra’s questioning, we learned that the alleged accusations are actually not related to the incident on Friday, but only to the fact that Issa did not bring his phone with him to the police station and to his alleged behavior in the police station (yelling). For these actions, he was interrogated for obstruction of the investigation and disturbing a policeman.
In response to Adv. Nassra’s questions, the police officer said that the police did not collect videos from the street cameras, nor did it summon the Israelis who documented the incident on Friday to interrogation (unlike Issa). Adv. Nassra highlighted the fact that even though three of the Israelis from the incident were detained – one even suspected of assault – none of them were under arrest at prison, like Issa. In addition, even though Issa came with a flash drive with the videos to the police, however, the police insisted on receiving his phone. The police officer called Issa a “generator of crime” as he accompanies groups of Israelis to area A; he also said that these “delegations” that come create friction and conflict, and that this is what created the incident on Friday.
The police requested that if Issa is released, it will be under extremely constraining terms. Finally, the judge has decided to release Issa later that day, under terms: he should not contact anyone else who was involved for 30 days; come to every police interrogation; he is banned from his home and the Tel-Rumeida area in Hebron until Tuesday, December 06th; and must pay a 1,500 NIS bail.
The week after this incident, Breaking the Silence organized another solidarity visit, where Issa was detained again for a few hours.
This incident is a terrifying example to the progresses in violence and in Jewish supremacy the new government might bring with it. HRDF will continue to stand with Israeli, international and Palestinian HRDs who show solidarity, and continue to insist on their rights to freedom of expression, movement and demonstration.
Israeli activist hit by a soldier in Hebron. Photo courtesy of Breaking the Silence
Soldiers Attempt to Criminalize HRDs; Military Admits to “Differences” from Situation on Ground
On October 28th, 2022, Israeli HRD A.M was arrested for allegedly throwing rocks at soldiers in the South Hebron Hills, near Avigail unauthorized outpost. He was arrested during a peaceful activity of accompanying Palestinian shepherd. While the two HRDs present on the ground claimed that the stones were only thrown towards the herd, far away from the soldiers and in order to manage the herd’s direction (this is a common shepherding practice), the soldiers claimed that they were attacked. The soldiers were quickly backed up by the Military Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Aviv Cochavi as well as the Minister of Defense Benny Gantz. The minister for Internal Security, Omer Bar-Lev, also joined the condemnation, and called the actions “terror activists“.
The HRD, a 20-years old soldier who was on vacation from the military, was initially detained for allegedly violating a closed military zone – even though he was out of the closed zone. The soldiers did not present the closing order at first, and when they did so after the HRDs insisted – the order presented did not match the geographical location where they were. Then, after the HRD was detained – the soldiers claimed that he attacked soldiers by throwing rocks at them, and he was arrested by the police.
HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Riham Nassra consulted A.M before his interrogation; he was interrogated for assault and for entering a closed military zone. He was finally released with a ban from the area for 15-days. Adv. Nassra also gave him legal consultation ahead of two internal disciplinary hearings he faced in his military unit, before being released from his military service shortly after.
While A.M was interrogated, the police leaked the wrong “news” to right-wing media, which quickly reported that a leftist activist, who is also a soldier on vacation, attacked soldiers in the West Bank. HRDF’s media consultant immediately launched actions to prevent the circulation of this fake news. Following the officials’ condemnation of the HRD, A. M’s mother wrote a letter addressed to them which was published in Haaretz; Adv. Nassra gave her legal consultation as well.
Following the publication of the letter, and following some corrections in several news outlets, the Internal Security Minister published an apology, and the Minister of Defense mentioned that the soldiers were not attacked, but did not apologize. The Military Chief of Staff did not respond, despite the military’s internal investigation stating that there were “differences” between the initial report from the soldiers and the actual situation on the ground.
This kind of spreading of fake news is a worrying trend; not only that policemen leak confidential information to right-wing media reporters – but the reporters trust the police and the settlers’ reports blindly and repeatedly publish fake news without proper fact-checking. While HRDF’s media consultant worked tirelessly to prevent the spread of this fake news and change the narrative, this sort of lie should not be reported in the first place, let alone supported by military and government officials. We see this kind of media work as highly important, as it allows us to provide HRDs with holistic protection.
Prominent HRDs Targeted for Their Activity, Bans Used as a Deterrence Mechanism
On Sunday, December 11th, prominent HRDs Yasmin Eran-Vardi and Itai Feitelson were arrested in the South Hebron Hills – where they volunteer daily with Palestinian HRDs and with the local communities. They were arrested for obstruction to a soldier and for insulting a public servant; the police claimed that they called the soldiers names while also violating a closed military zone order (obstruction).
The police suggested releasing them under terms of house arrest and a ban from the area, but the HRDs refused to sign. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Karin Torn Hibler gave them legal consultation all throughout their interrogation. Since they refused to sign the terms, they were held in custody for the night, and brought before the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Monday, December 12th. In the arrest hearing, the police requested that they will be banned from the South Hebron Hills for 180 days, not contact the soldiers (who are regularly in the area) for 60 days, and pay numerous bails.
Adv. Torn Hibler represented them in the arrest hearing and claimed that the HRDs were never presented with a closed military zone order. She also explained that the HRDs were on private Palestinian land which was being worked on by an Israeli settler; the HRDs wanted to help the Palestinian stop the work and therefore they called the military, and the soldiers arrived. Adv. Torn Hibler also mentioned that the ban requested from the whole of South Hebron Hills is too broad – it is a very strong restriction to the HRDs’ freedom of movement and expression and with no justification related to the specific case. Therefore, she requested their release with no terms.
The judge ruled that there is a reasonable basis for the offense of insulting a public servant and therefore ordered their release under terms: a ban from the area for 10 days; no contact order with the soldiers for 30 days; and multiple bails of a total of 10,500 NIS each. The judge also gave a penetration order to their phones and video camera.
This is a clear targeting of prominent HRDs for their human rights work. The 180-day ban the police asked for is outrageous, but it may have been ordered without a professional and successful representation by Adv. Torn Hibler. We believe that professional legal defense is crucial to the work of HRDs, and will continue to provide it wherever it is needed.
SLAPP: “Elad” Right-Wing Organization Sues Human-Rights Organizations and Activists for Defamation
On September 11th, 2022, “Elad” right-wing organization has sued left-wing and human rights organizations Emek Shaveh and their spokesperson, Ir Amim and Mehazkim, as well as three individual human rights defenders, for alleged defamation.
The suit concerns the media campaign these organizations launched against a series of musical shows which took place in summer 2022 in Jerusalem in “Farm in the Valley” in Ben-Hinum valley in Jerusalem. The musical series was initiated by “Elad” among others – including the Jerusalem municipality and the Israeli music club “Zappa”. All in all, Elad is asking a compensation of over four million NIS for this alleged defamation.
The human rights organizations initiated the campaign in order to explain that the shows are taking place on land which is privately owned by Palestinians residents of Silwan, who were not asked for their permission, nor were they receiving any monetary compensation for this land use. Elad claims that the lands are not in private ownership, but rather in governmental ownership – and are managed by the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority. While the activists’ campaign did not deny the fact that it is a national park – they are questioning the political reasons behind the expropriation of Palestinian land for this park. Therefore, they asked Zappa to cut this collaboration – and not support Elad, since it legitimizes their work – expropriating land from its rightful Palestinian owners, and transferring it to Jewish ownership, and promoting the Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, while severely harming the Palestinian residents.
HRDF has taken upon itself to take care of the legal representation of the three HRDs who were sued personally, and HRDF-funded lawyer Adv. Carmel Pomerantz will file their defense claims soon. We will continue to update on this issue in the future.
Additional HRDF Activities and Updates
Advocacy Tour in the Europe with Youth of Sumud
Between October 10th-20th, HRDF has embarked on an advocacy tour in Europe alongside Palestinian grassroots organization Youth of Sumud, represented by HRD Sami Huraini and in cooperation with our partner Kurve Wustrow.
The goal of the tour was to raise awareness to the pressing issues of Masafer Yatta, criminalization of HRDs and the military court system in as many institutions and organizations in the international community as possible. Over the course of 10 days, we visited Brussels, Geneva, Berlin, and Wustro (in Germany), and met with various CSOs, politicians, public servants, and activists.
Advocacy tours are an important tool for us to strengthen our ties with the international community, and we hope to continue to maintain these strong and effective bonds in the future.
UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs refers to the situation in Masafer Yatta
On December 08th, and following several communications of HRDF to the UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs, Ms. Mary Lawlor, has issued a statement regarding the situation in Masafer Yatta. In that statement, she voices concern by information indicating that “…in addition to continuing Israeli Security Forces operations aimed at the forced eviction and transfer of Palestinian residents of villages in the Masafer Yatta region of southern Hebron, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israeli settler attacks on the area’s Palestinian human rights defenders have been insufficiently investigated, compounding a climate of impunity for human rights violations“.
Please read Ms. Lawlor’s full statement here.
Training to Activists and HRDs
As part of HRDF’s work, we are committed to providing HRDs in all fields with holistic treatment. As part of this aspiration, we find great importance in providing professional training – legal and others – to equip rural communities, activists, and HRDs with better ways to defend themselves against legal persecution. In 2022, we have provided 17 training sessions, in the following subjects: 11 legal trainings on criminal procedure, defendant’s rights, arrests, protesters’ rights and coordination with the police – for groups of activists and HRDs; 3 documentation trainings to various communities who are attacked on a daily basis; 2 geographical trainings of the South Hebron Hills region; and 2 wellbeing and methodological trainings.
We see the results of this training every day on the ground, and we hope to continue to provide and expand them in 2023 as well.
We welcome your interest and support. If you have any further questions regarding these and other matters please contact: [email protected]