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

Legal Victories: Cancellations of Indictments

Muhammed Abu Hummus and Adam Masri

Muhammed Abu Hummus is a prominent Palestinian HRD who lives in Al-Issawiya, in occupied east Jerusalem. Adam Masri, his nephew is also a resident of Al-Issawiya.

In November 2019, police officers entered Al-Issawiya as part of a police operation. As part of their operation, they blocked a street, and Adam Masri approached them, asking them to move their car from his private parking. In response, the police officers began beating, choking, and pepper spraying him and Abu Hummus who tried to protect his nephew, to the point that Masri lost consciousness.

Even though they were the victims of this assault, which was clearly documented in a video, Masri and Abu Hummus were charged with attacking police officers. As police brutality was mentioned in their arrest hearings, both the magistrate’s court and the district court declined the police requests to detain them further and were also critical of the officers’ behavior.

Even though the judges ordered that the case be taken to the care of the Justice Ministry’s police misconduct unit, and The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) filed a complaint – the case against the officers was dismissed for insufficient evidence.

It should be noted that later on, the misconduct unit apologized for the handling of the case; however, the criminal investigation against Masri and Abu Hummus continued. On June 20th, 2022, an indictment was finalized against the two Palestinian HRDs, accusing them of aggravated assault on a police officer, resisting arrest, and obstructing the police.

Before the indictment was officially filed, HRDF-funded lawyers, Adv. Michal Pomeranz and Adv. Riham Nassra asked for a pre-indictment hearing. Adv. Nassra requested to receive all of the investigation materials and found out that the videos were not included in it, and neither was any material from the misconduct unit (this included the officers’ testimonywhich contradicted the police reports written after the incident).

As it turns out, the prosecution had drafted the indictment without watching the videos or considering the testimonies which were given to the Justice Ministry’s police misconduct unit; they only viewed the videos in response to HRDF advocates’ written arguments in the pre-indictment hearing. After watching them, they decided to drop the case. In their response to an article in Haaretz, the prosecutor’s office said that in the hearing, the defendants’ arguments were brought to its attention. “After additional consideration of the arguments in their entirety, and the evidence, it was decided not to file indictments against them and to close the file“”.

This is an outrageous example of how easily and light-headedly the prosecution criminalizes Palestinians, especially prominent HRDs, without even considering all of the available information. This highlights the importance of legal representation, and we are proud of Adv. Pomeranz and Nassra for providing excellent legal aid leading to this success.

Muhammad Abu Hummus (left) and Adam Masri. Self Documentation.

Combatants for Peace

On May 21st, 2021, Combatants for Peace organized a demonstration near Beit Jala to protest the Israeli violence in the April-May events in Sheikh Jarrah and all over Israel. The demonstration was attended by Palestinian, Israeli, and international activists, eight of whom were arrested: four Israelis and four Palestinians.

All of them were interrogated for alleged offenses of illegal gathering and disturbing a public servant, however only the Palestinian HRDs were indicted, while the cases against the Israeli activists were closed.

In December and January 2021, the military prosecution prepared indictments against all four Palestinian HRDs for illegal gathering and violating a closed military zone; one HRD was also accused of assaulting a soldier. However, the HRDs were not notified of the indictments, and only in March 2022 one of them received a phone call notifying him that he has a hearing set for the next few days; all other HRDs were not notified at all. In fact, the HRD was illegally asked to notify the others.

HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Lea Tsemel sent an urgent letter to the military court, asking to postpone the hearing so that she can provide the HRDs with a proper legal defense. On May 15th, 2022, and on June 26th, preliminary hearings took place, where Adv. Tsemel requested to receive all of the investigation material in all eight cases, including the reasons for closing the cases of the Israeli activists. On July 25th, 2022, and based on the few investigation materials that were received, Adv. Tsemel requested to pause the legal procedure as she intends to ask for the cancellation of all four indictments.

While another hearing was set for September 2022, in August 2022 the military prosecution announced the cancellation of three of the cases, because “the circumstances at hand are not fit for prosecution“. However, the prosecution has not agreed to cancel the indictment against Khuloud Rawi, who is accused of assaulting a soldier. Adv. Tsemel is negotiating her case with the prosecution, and the next court preliminary hearing is set for October 24th, 2022.

This is another case that shows a complete lack of thorough assessment before indicting and criminalizing Palestinian HRDs. Even though they were arrested and interrogated for the same reasons as the Israeli activists, they had to fight to receive the same outcome. Once again, this shows the substantial consequences legal representation can have in legal procedures.

Protest against the occupation and the shooting of Harun Abu Aram. Photograph by Keren Manor, Activestills

Cancellation of Indictments Given to Israeli Activists Fighting the Occupation in the West Bank

In the first two weeks of January 2021, following the continuous violent attack against Palestinians in Area C, and the shooting of Harun Abu-Aram by Israeli soldiers in A-Rakeez village, as a result of which he was left paralyzed from the neck down – Palestinian residents, alongside the international community and Israeli activists, organized a series of demonstrations in the South Hebron Hills to protest the horrific use of force and the inhumane living conditions in the area.

Since this was amidst a Covid-19 state-enforced lockdown, several of the Israeli activists received fines for taking part in the demonstrations – even though participating in demonstrations was excluded from the quarantine regulations. Other activists received fines for “going into the public space for an unauthorized reason” – as they accompanied Palestinian farmers to help protect them from settlers’ attacks. It should be noted that the Covid lockdown regulations allowed going to specific workplaces or assisting a person in need; agricultural work was one of the specified jobs to which one could go even during a lockdown.

In January 2021, HRDF-funded lawyers, Adv. Gabi Lasky (before becoming an MK) and Adv. Riham Nassra approached the Attorney General and the police legal advisor, asking to cancel these fines; while they managed to successfully cancel all fines given for demonstrating, the other fines – for going into public space for an unauthorized reason – remained.

On June 09th, 2022 – all indictments were canceled by the prosecution, as were the fines, and the Jerusalem Magistrate Court closed all correlated cases. Read more about this case here.

We are proud of the HRDs who successfully stood against baseless legal persecution, and of the legal aid team who brought these great successes.

These examples prove the importance of legal representation, which is a way to ensure that HRDs can work freely; it also exposes the systematic flaws of the law enforcement system. However, it should also be noted that not all Palestinians accused in the military court get adequate legal representation – many are criminalized for their peaceful actions and remain defenseless.

Freedom of Speech

Journalist Attacked during a Demonstration

On the morning of August 07th, as many right-wing activists and settlers arrived at Temple Mount to commemorate the annual fast of Tisha B’Av, two Palestinian journalists were arrested and beaten by the police.

The journalists arrived at the scene in order to document it. One of the journalists, Mahammad Ashu, was violently arrested as he was documenting the Jewish participants exiting the area. Ashu was beaten in his head by a Jewish man holding a flag pole; the man then tried to take his camera cable. Ashu tried to stop him from doing so when he was arrested violently by the police.

HRDF-funded lawyer, adv. Nasser Odeh arrived at the police station and provided the HRD with legal consultation. Later that day, Ashu was released with a five-day ban from the old city.

This is another example of severe violations of freedom of speech. These violations are even more serious when they prohibit journalists from doing their work. HRDF will continue to provide support and legal aid to journalists who are prevented from documenting incidents, to ensure a full right to exercise their freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

The arrest of Muhammad Ashu. Photograph by SK.

Arrests of Israeli Activists Who Were Protesting in Solidarity with Palestinian Hunger Striker

On August 31st, 2022, there was a demonstration to show solidarity with Palestinian Khalil Awawdeh in front of the hospital where he was hospitalized due to his severe medical condition. Awawdeh’s hunger strike was for over 170 days, in protest of his administrative detention.

During the demonstration, two prominent Israeli HRDs were arrested. The HRDs, Gil Hamershlag and Yonatan Pollack are constantly protesting against the occupation, Israeli policies in the oPt, and administrative detentions.

They were arrested because they stood in a place separate from the group, and allegedly “disobeyed policemen orders”. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Riham Nassra provided them with legal consultation at the police station, and both of them were released without terms.

Administrative detentions are a “preventive” measure, keeping Palestinians detained without trial and without having committed an offense.

HRDF strongly opposes this horrible legal procedure, which is used as another way to terrorize Palestinians and harden their lives by the Israeli state. We will continue to stand in solidarity with Palestinians who are suffering from it, and with Israeli HRDs who are standing in solidarity with them, and prosecuted or persecuted as a result.

Yonatan Pollack minutes before his arrest.

Tel-Aviv: HRD Declined Entry to the Train for Wearing a Political Shirt

On August 25th, 2022, two activists arrived at a train station in Tel Aviv, after they came back from the protest tent of ” Looking the Occupation in the Eyes”, a movement in which they are active. One of them wore a shirt that read “Looking the Occupation in the Eyes” and was denied entry to the station after the security guard stopped her and claimed that her shirt is “provocative”. The activists demanded to be shown the regulations specifying that, however, the security guard threatened them and used force against them. The activists approached the shift manager, but he backed up the guard.

The activists contacted HRDF, and HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Karin Torn Hibler, clarified that the guard’s demands were illegal, and consulted them to insist on entering the premises without changing the shirt. The HRDs called the police, however, the first policemen to arrive claimed that since these are the train premises, the train guard has the authority to prevent entry.

Only after another police officer arrive at the scene, she ordered the guard to allow them to enter, and the activists were allowed to enter the station and board the train, after being detained by the guard for almost an hour. The day after, the two activists filed an official complaint.

These violations of freedom of speech are worrying, as part of the general trend of shrinking the civic space in Israel and Palestine. HRDF will continue to support Israeli and Palestinian HRDs in order to ensure free speech continues to be a basic human right.

Zuria Hadad is prevented entry by the security guard. Photograph by Meir Brochin.

Persecution of Prominent HRD and B’Tselem Worker, Nasser Nawajah

Nasser Nawaj’ah is B’Tselem’s field researcher in the South Hebron Hills and a prominent activist in this area. On August 06th, 2022, he was arrested by soldiers who raided his village, Susiya, and arrived at his home. He was handcuffed and blindfolded, and then taken to a military camp in the settlement of Otniel. It should be noted that his whereabouts were unclear to his family and friends – or to his lawyer – for the entire time he was absent.

Nawaj’ah was held there for about 12 hours. He was barely given any water, and no food at all, and remained handcuffed and blindfolded for the entire time.

HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Riham Nassra tried to ask the police, the military, and the Israeli Security Agency (ISA – “The Shin Bet”) for his whereabouts, but no answer was given to her or to anyone else.

The next day, Nawaj’ah was taken to an ISA interrogation. The officer questioned Nawaj’ah about his work and home, accused him of “causing trouble” in the area, and asked him to refrain from doing so and not to “create any friction” with the military.

This is not the first time the ISA has taken action against Nawaj’ah; you can see his response here.

This is a clear example of the persecution of prominent HRDs who are resisting the occupation. The state of Israel, through the military, is attempting to terrorize their lives in order to prevent them from doing their human rights work and create a chilling effect on others. HRDF will always support HRDs by providing direct legal aid and legal representation when needed.

Representing HRDs Who Were Assaulted During Their Human Rights Activity

Gil Hamershlag, Arik Asherman and Netta Ben-Porat

Gil Hamershlag, Arik Asherman and Netta Ben-Porat are prominent Israeli HRDs who are deeply committed to human rights in the oPt. As part of their work, they escort Palestinians working in their lands, to protect them from settlers’ violence.

On November 12th, 2021, they arrived with a group of Palestinians in order to harvest their olive trees. At the beginning of the harvest, soldiers were also present on the ground, but they left after a few hours. Shortly after the soldiers left, a group of settlers began gathering close to the olive grove and throwing stones toward the farmers and the HRDs.

At some point, two of the settlers – with their faces covered – approached the HRDs, who were filming the incident and helping with the harvest. One of the settlers, named Einan Tanjil, approached Ben-Porat and hit her using a bat he was holding on her legs and head. Then, another settler hit Hamershlag in his hand, head and neck, also using a bat. At the same time, Tanjil hit Asherman in his face using a bat.

As a result of these events, Ben-Porat and Asherman were both injured; Ben-Porat was injured in her head and had to receive medical treatment and evacuate to the hospital. Later, it was found out that Tanji also carried pepper spray and a pocket knife with him.

On November 21st, 2022, following complaints that were filed by the HRDs – Tanji was indicted with three charges for attacking and injuring the HRDs, including an assault with others (directed at Tanjil’s unknown partner). HRDF-funded lawyer, adv. Nassra gave legal consultation to the HRDs before they filed their complaints to the police, and is continuing to provide legal aid throughout the legal process.

On August 2022, we learned that the police prosecution intends to sign a plea bargain with Tanjil, which will greatly ease the accusation against him, and completely erase the fact that he had a partner in crime – even though the incident is well documented.

Adv. Nassra objected the plea bargain. In her letter to the prosecution, she mentioned that there is public interest in favor of having a full trial. She said that seeing the substantial rise in settlers’ violence, it is the police prosecution’s duty to use the criminal law to prevent it. Having a full trial is necessary to deter Tanjil himself, but also others like him who participate in similar incidents. She also mentioned that while it is common to reach plea bargains due to lack of evidence, in this case, the event was extremely well documented. Finally, she protested the fact that the assault was not defined ideological or racial.

The prosecutor replied that they intend to ask the court for a two-year imprisonment period, which he claimed was a severe punishment. The plea bargain will be brought got judicial approval on September 15th, 2022. Should it be approved by the court, there will be a hearing to determine the verdict, where punishment justifications will be heard. Adv. Nassra will continue to counsel the HRDs and make sure that their stand is represented before the court.

Photograph by SK.

HRD Hospitalized After Being Attacked during a Demonstration, Attacker Banned from Sheikh Jarrah

On July 08th, 2022, during a Friday demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah, Palestinian HRD Kareem Dekdek was physically attacked by a right-wing activist Rami Ben-Yehuda. He pushed Dekdek to the ground using a megaphone. Dekdek had to be evacuated to the hospital in an ambulance and needed medical care.

Dekdek had footage of the incident, and on July 11th, 2022, he filed a complaint with the police in Jerusalem. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Riham Nassra provided legal consultation to him and to another HRD who was a witness to the case and testified at the police station. Following this complaint, Ben-Yehuda was banned from Dekdek’s vicinity for thirty days, and from Sheikh Jarrah for fifteen days.

The demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah are a sign of resilience and peaceful protest. Recently, we have seen a rise in settlers’ violence in the neighborhood, especially during the demonstrations that are targeted by right-wing activists. HRDF will continue to stand with HRDs coming to Sheikh Jarrah regularly to protect the neighborhood and its residents.

HRDF will continue to stand with HRDs who are fearlessly defending human rights, enduring physical harm as a result. HRDF will continue to provide legal support to make sure that all violent attackers are complained against and to ensure a safe civic space in Israel and Palestine.

Kareem Dekdek (middle). Photograph by SK.

International Advocacy

Human Rights Are Not Terrorism – Standing in Solidarity with the Designated Palestinian NGOs

See the full letter, signed by other Israeli CSOs, here.

HRDF’s Communications to the UN Yields International Response

Seeing that the situation in the South Hebron Hills has become more and more violent in recent months, HRDF sent an urgent communication to the UN Special Rapporteurs for Human Rights Defenders and for the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967. Read more about this here.

In addition, and seeing Sami Huraini’s trial was nearing its end, we also advocated for his case as a prominent HRD who is accused of severe violations for merely participating in a peaceful demonstration.

In a response to our efforts, the UN Special Rapporteur mandates on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory; on adequate housing; and on the human rights of internally displaced persons sent a communication to the government of Israel, asking for clarification regarding the violence in Masafer Yatta and raising a concern of forcible transfer in area C. You can see this communication, dated May 11th, 2022, here.

In addition, on May 18th, 2022, the UN Special Rapporteur mandates on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly; on the situation of human rights defenders; and on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory issued a joint statement regarding Sami Huraini’s case. You can read the full document here.

HRDF condemns all violent attacks and works with partners in the international community to stop such forms of harassment of HRDs and civilians. While our main goal is providing direct legal aid to HRDs, we are also striving to assist our HRDs and the causes they promote through international advocacy efforts. 

Roundtable about the Shrinking Civic Space in Israel

On May 30th, 2022, HRDF organized, together with OHCHR, a roundtable on the shrinking civic space in Israel and the role of civil society. We did this as part of our ongoing support to HRDs and human rights organizations in their connection with the UN and with UN mechanisms.

First, the UN presented its different mechanisms, their responsibilities and collaboration opportunities. Then, in small group discussions, two main topics were discussed: Palestinian citizens of Israel, and Asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. HRDF was one of the presenting organizations, and our presentation focused mainly on criminalization of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

We believe that a strong connection with the international community is essential to a thriving civil society in Israel and in the oPt, and we will continue to be involved in such efforts.

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.