Recent Developments in the Situation of Palestinian and Israeli Human Rights Defenders – January 2022

The Struggle in Sheikh Jarrah Intensifies

Eviction in the Middle of the Night, HRDs Detained and Arrested

On the night of January 19th, at 3 AM, the Salhiyeh family members were violently evicted from their home in Sheikh Jarrah, in which they lived since 1958. The house was allegedly evicted to clear an area for a new Municipal educational center for the Palestinian residents of the city – even though other public areas can be found within the neighbourhood for this purpose without requiring the eviction of a family home. You can read more about the Salhiyeh family, their home, and their struggle here and here.

On Monday, January 17th, the first attempt to evict the house took place. Read more here.

House Demolition in Sheikh Jarrah. Photograph by Oren Ziv, Local Call.

Arrests During Friday Demonstrations

On December 24th, 2021, a peaceful demonstration took place in Sheikh Jarrah, objecting the state’s intent to evacuate Salem family of eleven for Jewish settlers. Hundreds of demonstrators marched towards the family’s house as the police began blocking their way violently and dispersing them by using shock grenades.

Three Israeli HRDs were arrested for allegedly disturbing and offending a police officer, participating in public riots, and disturbing public order. Even though these sorts of offenses usually do not yield arrests, they were held in custody overnight. The next day, before they were brought to the court for their arrest hearing, the police tried to convince them to sign release terms at the police station, to avoid bringing them to court, including a 15-day ban from Sheikh Jarrah, as well as a personal bail of 3,000 NIS each.

HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Lea Tsemel, gave legal consultation to the HRDs, who refused to sign the ban as it harms their right to protest (they did agree to the other release terms). Adv. Tsemel also represented the HRDs in their arrest hearing later that evening, at the Jerusalem Magistrates Court, where the judge accepted the police request for banning them from Sheikh Jarrah but shortened its terms to seven days instead of fifteen.

Adv. Tsemel filed an appeal to the Jerusalem District Court, arguing for the importance of the HRDs right to protest, which is severely harmed by banning them from the demonstration area, but the appeal was rejected by the court on December 29th.

Arresting HRDs for a weekend, releasing them only after a night in custody, for minor offenses as in this case – is an unreasonable and unacceptable decision, aimed at deterring the HRDs from participating in demonstrations and creating a chilling effect. We are recently seeing a worrying trend of bans from demonstrations locations, which harms the HRDs’ basic right to protest.

HRDF opposes the unjust evictions of family homes in Sheikh Jarrah and will continue to stand with HRDs defending Palestinians’ basic human rights for property and shelter.

We will continue to closely monitor Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and oppose any illegitimate attempt to change its demographics.

Arrest in Sheikh Jarrah. Photograph by Matan Golan

A Rare Success in the Military Courts System

The military court system is one of the basic pillars which constitute the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. Palestinian defendants, including human rights defenders (HRDs) criminalized for peaceful actions, are judged by a biased system: the prosecutor, judge, and other court officials are all Israeli soldiers. Therefore, the percentage of plea bargains is unbelievable – reaching as high as 99.5% out of all cases in the last four years (excluding transport cases). Only 0.3% of the cases will reach a full trial, including evidence hearings and a judicial decision; furthermore, in 96.7% of the cases, the defendant is convicted. These recently attained figures are astonishing, clearly showing the challenges in achieving due process and a fair trial in the military courts.

Therefore, we are happy to report a rare success in the case of Nasser Al-Adraa, where the military prosecution decided to cancel the indictment. This has only happened in ten other criminal cases since 2018.

Nasser Suleiman al-Adraa, is a human rights defender and one of the leaders of the non-violent struggle and resistance for the past 20 years in the South Hebron Hills.

On April 6th, 2021, the military prosecution indicted al-Adraa for an old incident dated May 2019. Al-Adraa was accused of entering a restricted area after participating in a demonstration near the unauthorized outpost of Mitzpe Yair, in which 17 Palestinian, Israeli and international protesters were arrested. Two years later, he was the only one indicted.

HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Riham Nassra, insisted on receiving all the investigation materials prior to the beginning of the evidence hearings in the trial. Adv. Nassra insisted on receiving all the material from the Hebron police station, including the transcripts of the interrogations of other demonstrators who were arrested but not indicted – in order to base the claim that selective enforcement was directed towards Al-Adraa, presumably due to his human rights work.

The Hebron police and the military prosecution initially refused to hand over the materials, however it seems that Adv. Nassra’s determination made them reconsider the dominant selective enforcement element of this case and the legal difficulties that are derived from it. Therefore, on December 12th, 2021, the prosecution has announced that they have decided to cancel Adra’s indictment, with no further explanation. While al-Adra is not exonerated, the prosecution declared that they would order the police to close the case, as “the circumstances, in this case, are not fit for trial”.

This is a rare example that shows the grand results dedicated legal representation may have. HRDF will continue to stand in solidarity with all Palestinian HRDs 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.

Demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah. Photograph by Matan Golan

Abuse of Covid Regulations to Criminalize Israeli HRDs

On April 03rd, 2020, Israeli HRDs Guy Hirshfeld and Arik Asherman were fined 500 NIS each for going into the public space for an unauthorized reason, during a state-enforced lockdown due to the Corona pandemic. Hirshfeld and Asherman are prominent HRDs who accompany Palestinian farmers to help protect them from settlers’ attacks. They were detained and fined in the oPt, near the unauthorized outpost of “Mal’achei Hashalom” farm, as they were on their way to aid farmers to work their lands. They also had a recorded approval from the IDF’s Home Front Command to continue doing their work even during the lockdown, as it fell under the classification of a ‘necessary job’ and ‘helping a person in need’.

On April 10th, 2021, Asherman received a report and another 500 NIS fine, in similar circumstances.

During Covid, and especially during the lockdowns, Palestinian farmers and shepherds had even more difficulties than usual in reaching to and working their lands, as settlers abused the situation and prevented their access to their lands. Therefore, the HRDs actions were crucial. Since the Covid regulations were abused by the state, and the fines were given to deter the HRDs from doing their human rights work, both Hirshfeld and Asherman decided to request a judiciary decision instead of a fine, and both were indicted accordingly.

HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Riham Nassra, represented the HRDs in their first hearing on September 09th, 2021, in front of the Jerusalem Magistrates Court. On December 15th, 2021, adv. Nassra filed a request to cancel the indictments, because the HRDs work was allowed even at the time of a lockdown; and because they relied on information they received from the Home Front Command.

Adv. Nassra also claimed for selective enforcement, as the settlers who were in the same place, building an illegal outpost on private Palestinian lands, were not fined or indicted for their criminal offenses. Furthermore, when Asherman arrived at the police station on April 03rd to file a complaint against the settlers – he was not allowed to do so.

On December 27th, 2021, the prosecution has decided to cancel the indictments. The court has ordered the cancellation accordingly on December 28th, 2021.

While this is an encouraging outcome, similar cases, of Israeli HRDs fined according to the Covid regulation for taking part in legal human rights activities, are still pending trials which are set to begin later this year.

This is an outrageous abuse of the Covid regulations, and we will stand with the HRDs to ensure that they have proper legal defense and are able to continue their important work without fear of being personally prosecuted and harassed.

Arrest in the Negev-Naqab. Photograph by Oren Ziv, Local Call

The Struggle for Land Rights in the Negev-Naqab

Bedouins in the Negev-Naqab Criminalised for their Human Rights Work

On January 05th, 2022, the Beer-Sheva district court gave its decision regarding the appeal hearing of a Magistrate’s court decision to convict four members of the Abu Madhi’m A-Turi family, from the unrecognized village of Al-‘Arāgīb.

The HRDs were convicted of three charges earlier in 2019: trespass with intent to commit an offense, violation of lawful direction, and unlawful entry to public land. Three of the HRDs were sentenced to prison terms of between three and six months, while Sheikh Sayah Abu Madhi’m A-Turi, who has been leading the protracted struggle for land rights in the unrecognized village of Al-‘Arāgīb, was sentenced to three months of community service due to his age and health condition. The defenders were also fined extremely high sums, ranging between ILS 12,000-30,000 each, and ILS 77,000 in total.

The court partially rejected the appeal, written by HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Michal Pomeranz. Adv. Pomeranz claimed that the legality of the HRDs actions which formed the criminal offenses are tightly connected with their lands claims, which are yet to be addressed by the court (in a separate legal procedure); that the HRDs were born on their land, and therefore their presence does not constitute a criminal offense; and that the court should take into account the general context: the state has stalled the legal procedure regarding the lands claims for forty-three years, and has decided to progress with the criminal procedure, to keep stalling the civil lawsuit regarding the lands claims.

Adv. Pomeranz also claimed that this behaviour by the state is a misuse of its excessive power, and that the Magistrates Court’s rejection of the selective enforcement claims was wrong. Regarding the verdict, adv. Pomeranz argued that the three individual prison sentences should – at the very least – be converted to community service and that the fines should be cancelled or reduced.

Concerning the HRDs conviction, the court ruled that the Magistrate’s Court was right in its factual decisions, which were based on the presented evidence. As was stated in the court, on the day of the demolitions the HRDs said to the police officer: “This is our land, and we will build here again”. The court, completely ignoring the legal battle over the land claims, claimed that this saying is “A blunt disrespect to the rule of law and law enforcers”, and that it “requires a criminal procedure for enforcement”, as the HRDs “violate” the law repeatedly.

The court has also stated that the criminal procedure is disconnected from the civil procedure regarding the land claims and that there is no selective enforcement as the criminal procedure was “required”, due to the repeated “trespasses”.

Regarding the verdict, the court partially accepted the HRDs appeal and converted the prison terms into community service terms of the same length.

This is an outrageous decision, criminalizing Bedouin HRDs for living on their lands. It is a vivid example of the various ways the state uses its power to harass Bedouin lives in the unrecognized villages of the Negev-Naqab: on one hand, the state stalls the lands claims legal procedures for decades; on the other hand, it criminalizes the HRDs working to progress with said claims and protect their lands.

Demonstrations in the Negev-Naqab. Photograph by Oren Ziv, Local Call

Arrests after Resisting to JNF’s Tree Planting

On December 29th, 2021, two Bedouin HRDs arrived to Khirbit al-Watan, where the Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) tractors were digging the land, as a preparation for afforestation early the next month. The HRDs documented the human rights violations committed by the JNF and the police, whose actions damaged the residents’ lands.

Police officers approached the HRDs and asked them to stop the children who were present from going near the tractors. The HRDs replied that they are not the children’s parents, and the police arrested them claiming they were inciting the children to approach the tractors.

HRDF-funded lawyer, Shahda Ibn-Bari, visited the HRDs at the police station and gave them pre-interrogation legal counselling. They were released with a 10-days ban from the area.

This unjustified arrest is another example of using the authority of the state to deter HRDs, while severely damaging their right to protest the expulsion of Palestinians in the Negev from their lands.

On January 11th, 2021, the JNF began planting trees in the surroundings of the Bedouin village of Saʿwah. The afforestation, done partly on lands that the Naqab’s Bedouin citizens have ownership claims, was done without planning approvals, and not as part of the National Outline Plan for Forest and Forestry. Furthermore, police checkpoints were set up near the Bedouin villages, preventing residents of the area from accessing crucial services such as schools and health centres.

These large aggressive operations have deepened the crisis of trust between the Bedouins citizens from the Naqab and the state. The JNF and police actions sparked massive confrontations between the Bedouin residents of the area and the Israeli police, in which more than 150 people have been arrested, including 60 minors. So far, 34 of these people were indicted, and several children are still held in custody – and some are interrogated by the Israeli Security Agency (SHABAK).

HRDF funded the legal consultation and representation of over fifteen detainees and arrestees, including minors.  HRDF and the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF) will continue to support Bedouin defenders active in the struggle for land rights and recognition, who face ongoing legal prosecution and harassments.

In accordance with the law, the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality is proud to note that as a result of cooperation with friendly countries and international organizations that promote human rights, most of the funding for our activities comes from “foreign entities.”

Arrest in the Negev-Naqab. Photograph by Oren Ziv, Local Call

HRDF stands in solidarity with all HRDs who are targeted, criminalised and prosecuted by Israel due to their work, and will keep supporting them, to guarantee that they are able to continue their legitimate human rights work.

We welcome your interest and support. If you have any further questions regarding these and other matters please contact: [email protected]

*In compliance with a law, intended to harm and silence organizations who criticize the Israeli Occupation and Israeli government’s policies, we are proud to declare that the bulk part of HRDF’s funding comes from “foreign state entities” – democratic states with whom we share the values of human rights.