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

Standing in Solidarity with Masafer Yatta

On May 4th, 2022, the Israeli High Court of Justice gave its judgment on the petitions filed against the declaration of the Masafer Yatta area as Firing Zone 918 and the related eviction orders of the Palestinian residents. The petitions were submitted by dedicated lawyers from ACRI and by Adv. Shlomo Lecker, on behalf of Masafer Yatta residents.

This decision came after two decades of legal proceedings and dismissed the petitions of the residents. As both their firing zone and eviction orders petitions were denied, in this decision the High Court of Justice cleared the way for a forcible transfer of over 1,000 Palestinians from eight villages. 

On May 11th, 2022, only one week after the judgment was given, demolitions began in the Masafer Yatta, and over 1,000 civilians, including children, face imminent risks of forcible transfer, while Israel advances the de-facto annexation of the South Hebron Hills. 

Please read here for more detailed information on this subject. 

We at HRDF work closely with various communities in the South Hebron Hills, and with Palestinian, Israeli, and international HRDs working in the area. These HRDs fight for the human rights of the Palestinian residents of the area and specifically against the eviction orders. At the same time, HRDs are working to protest this decision and protect the Palestinian population of Masafer Yatta. We hope that a strong response from the international community can help the residents of Masafer Yatta, as well as of other declared firing zones. 

We commit to continue supporting these HRDs in their righteous struggle, and call on the international community to show solidarity and support in this difficult time.

A Demonstration in Solidarity with Masafer Yatta. Photograph by Heather Sharona Weiss, Activestills.

Palestinian University Students being Arrested for Political Activism 

In the past couple of months, we have seen a rise in the arrests of Palestinian students at universities. Time after time, young students are arrested for legitimate political activity, in a severe breach of their freedom of expression. As the tension between Palestinians and Israelis intensifies within Israel, it is important for university institutions to remain impartial, in order to provide a safe space for all students to progress with their studies and have an equal opportunity to develop their future. Instead, we are seeing a frightening trend of arresting students – sometimes on campus grounds, by off-duty policemen, and for acts as simple as singing songs or writing on social media. This is a severe form of silencing of HRDs who oppose the actions of the state of Israel. 

As we stand in solidarity with the student HRDs, we are also investigating the subject and consulting our lawyers, to prepare a strategic plan to handle these violations of freedom of speech, should they continue to occur.

Palestinian Students Detained at Hebrew University for Singing a Song In Arabic

On March 28th, 2022, two young Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, who are students at the Hebrew University, were detained on the grounds of the university – for singing a song in Arabic.

The policemen who detained them were fellow students, who are also members of the Israeli police and study on the same campus in a special program for police officers. The policemen claimed that the Palestinian students, who were on their way to their classes “sang a song in Arabic that includes words that support terrorism”.

After being escorted from campus to a police vehicle, the students were taken to the police station where they were interrogated for alleged charges of threats and endangering the public peace. The students denied these accusations and were released after a detention of over eight hours. They were released with bail and a six-days ban from the Hebrew University.

On March 29th, 2022, HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Nasser Odeh – who also gave pre-interrogation legal consultation to the students – submitted an appeal on the students’ behalf. On March 31st, 2022, the appeal was denied by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court. The judge rejected the appeal, claiming that the police officers’ actions were legal. She also said that the students’ right to freedom of speech can be compromised for other rights under certain circumstances; given the current tense political situation, their actions raised suspicion of endangering public peace. She did not refer to the students’ claims regarding excessive use of force by the policemen.

Read more about this case here

Student Arrested near Tel-Aviv University while Documenting a Demonstration in Solidarity with Palestinian Administrative Detainees

On April 17th, 2022, a demonstration took place near Tel-Aviv University, adjacent to the Israeli Secret Services Headquarters, where HRDs demonstrated against administrative detentions. At the same time, a Palestinian student was passing by the demonstration and joined it, and was arrested by the police for allegedly insulting the policemen, assaulting them whilst on duty, and threatening them. While he was running away from the demonstration area, the policemen chased him and brutally arrested him near the university dorms.

In the arrest hearing, the police asked to prolong his arrest by four days. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Riham Nassra advocated for his release as he had to prepare for his final exams. The Tel-Aviv Jaffa Magistrates Court has decided to release him under personal bail of 3,000 NIS, cash deposit, bail from his brother, and banned him from participating in demonstrations for fourteen days. 

A few days after the student was released, he was summoned to a disciplinary hearing by the university dorms, where he lives, for “inappropriate behavior”, without explanation of what said behavior was. Adv. Nassra helped him to submit questions and requests for information to the dorms’ management, however as no answer was received, she reached out to the management herself as his attorney. In reply, the dorms’ administration said that he can only view the security cameras’ footage, but not receive it. Guided by adv. Nassra, the student asked that the material be ready for him to pick up. 

On May 8th, 2022, his disciplinary hearing was delayed by the dorms. To this day, he has not received a new hearing date; the dorms have also not set a date with him to acquire the necessary material. 

HRDF and Adv. Nassra will continue to follow this case closely, and provide legal consultation and representation to the student, should it be necessary in the future. 

Arrest in near Tel-Aviv University. Photograph by Oren Ziv, Local Call

Two Students Arrested in Ben-Gurion University – One during a Demonstration in Memory of Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh

On May 12th, 2022, a Bedouin student at the University of Ben-Gurion, Maryam Abu Kwedir, was arrested on campus, by police in civilian clothes, following a demonstration in memory of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Since her arrest was a violation of freedom of protest, she was represented by HRDF-funded lawyer, adv. Shahde Ibn Bari. 

Adv. Ibn Bari also represented another student, who was arrested near the police station when she and many other students were protesting in solidarity with Abu-Kwedir. She was arrested for allegedly disturbing Abu Kwedir’s investigation, but was later released without terms. 

Later that day, it was found out that Abu-Kwedir was previously investigated by the Israeli Secret Services for publishing allegedly inciting content on social media – and was arrested by the police to be interrogated for that alleged offense. While we do not know the true nature of the social media posts, as adv. Ibn Bari was not allowed to view them, arresting her on campus, during a separate political activity, with no reason, and without being sent a summon to an investigation regarding the social media posts – is not acceptable. 

On May 13th, 2022, Abu-Kwedir was brought to her arrest hearing before the Be’er-Sheva Magistrates Court. At first, the court has agreed to adv. Ibn Bari’s request to release her; however, the prosecution appealed, their appeal was accepted by the Be’er Sheva District Court and her arrest was prolonged until May 16th. On May 16th, the Be’er Sheva Magistrates Court once again decided to prolong Abu-Kwedir’s arrest until May 19th; adv. Ibn-Bari appealed and his appeal was denied by the District Court. On May 19th, Abu-Kwedir was brought for her third arrest hearing, in which the police asked to prolong her detention once again. Adv. Ibn Bari objected to the long arrest period, and explained that the student is only twenty-one, has an exam soon, and that her due process rights, such as her right to consult with her attorney, were severely hurt. He asked to release her, however, the court decided to keep her in custody until May 22nd, 2022, claiming that her political actions – posting on social media – are dangerous and inciting. 

On the last appeal hearing, on May 22nd, the prosecution announced that they have decided to release her under terms: 14-days house arrest, bails, cash deposit, and a prohibition from using any electrical device with internet access (phone, computer, smart TV, etc). Adv. Ibn Bari asked the court to shorten her home arrest time so that she can still attend her exams, however, the judge rejected this request. The judge accepted all the terms other than the prohibition of using internet devices, which was removed.  

Three Students Arrested in Tel-Aviv University during a Demonstration for Nakba Memorial Day

On May 15th, 2022, three Palestinian students at Tel-Aviv University were arrested during a Nakba memorial ceremony. At the same time, a counter-demonstration was also taking place on campus, and the Palestinian students were provoked by students from the other group of right wing Israeli demonstrators. A police force was present to prevent any escalations, however the students were arrested by policemen in civilian clothing, who did not identify themselves, and did not do anything to prevent the confrontation between the groups, nor did they arrest any Israelis. 

HRDF-funded lawyer, adv. Karin Torn-Hibler, gave them legal counseling before their interrogation. Two students were released on the same day under the condition of a 15-days ban from the campus, and the third student was held in custody. This student was investigated for allegedly assaulting a policeman and resisting his arrest. 

The day after, on May 16th, 2022, his arrest hearing took place in front of the Tel-Aviv Magistrates Court. The police asked to prolong his detention by five days, however adv. Torn-Hibler advocated for his release to home arrest; she claimed that since the policemen were not in uniform, the student could not have known that they were policemen and he was scared they were chasing him to hurt him. The judge, after mentioning the student had visible bruises on his face, decided to release him to house arrest for three days. She also ordered terms of bails and a cash deposit. 

Adv. Torn-Hibler also represented another one of the other students, who was banned from campus for 15-days. She appealed this decision on his behalf, claiming that this is disproportionate harm to a student before his exam term, especially because it was given to the maximum possible amount and without necessary justification. Additionally, since the demonstration was for Nakba day which has passed, there is no reason to ban him from the campus. . On the appeal hearing on May 18th, 2022, the Tel-Aviv Magistrates court ruled that the ban is harmful to the student and to his education and is not necessary to benefit the investigation. Therefore, the judge dismissed this term and canceled the student’s ban.

This is a worrisome trend HRDF will continue to monitor, and offer direct legal aid to ensure that student HRDs are guaranteed their freedom of speech and freedom of protest, on and off university premises. 

A Demonstration for Nakba Memorial Day in Tel-Aviv University. Photograph by Activestills

Sheikh Jarrah: the Struggle is Intensified by Persecuting Activists

Violence Rises during “Flag March”, Palestinians arrested as “Preventive Measures”

On May 29th, 2022, the Flag March took place in Jerusalem, as part of “Jerusalem Day” celebrations. As part of this march, Jews pass through the old city, which every year results in violent attacks of the marchers towards Palestinians who live there. This year, as every year, many violent incidents took place; however, these incidents were not only in the old city, but also in other parts of East Jerusalem, such as Sheikh Jarrah. While over sixty Palestinians were arrested, only two Jews were arrested for attacking a reporter of an Israeli news channel. 

HRDF-funded lawyer, adv. Nasser Odeh, represented two of the detainees, who were arrested in Sheikh Jarrah and brought to their arrest hearing before the Jerusalem Magistrates Court on May 30th, 2022. The police admitted that there were Jews who were being violent – but they “fled” the area and therefore the police did not arrest them. However, adv. Odeh showed a video where armed forces are seen clearly standing next to Jewish settlers who were throwing stones, without arresting them, and one of the arrestees said that he was acting in self-defense. The police asked to arrest one of them for five more days, and the other for seven more days; the court has decided to allow their arrest for three more days. After that period, on June 1st, 2022, there was another arrest hearing where the police requested to prolong their arrest. Adv. Odeh represented them and they were released under terms This is an unacceptable and frightening situation, where every year Palestinians are threatened and attacked in their own neighborhoods and homes, and the police stand by and do nothing about it. 

This year, we also saw a new worrisome trend of arresting prominent Palestinian HRDs and political activists several days before the march, as “preventive measures”. The week before the march, dozens of residents of East Jerusalem were summoned to interrogation, under the vague assumption that they would cause disturbances during the flag march. At least seven of them were arrested by the Israeli police, which claimed that they have committed offenses during the funeral of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. In the arrest hearings of several of them, the police requested that their arrests be prolonged by five days, and the Jerusalem Magistrates court has accepted – without receiving any evidence to their alleged offenses. This decision was rejected on Sunday by the District Court, which ruled that while violent incidents and disturbances to peace should be eliminated, this cannot be done through arrests and criminal procedure. 

HRDF-funded lawyer, adv. Nasser Odeh, represented three Palestinians who were arrested on Saturday, May 28th, and the police wanted to prolong their arrests by five days. After a successful arrest hearing on Sunday, May 29th, one of the arrestees was released without terms; one was released under terms of home arrest for two days, cash deposit and bails; and one was held in custody for two more days, and was released on May 31st.

Flag March in Jerusalem: Throwing Stones in Sheikh Jarrah. Photograph by Shir Aharon

Israeli HRD Arrested on the Weekly Demonstration, Refuses to Sign Terms in an Act of Solidarity

On April 15th, 2022, on the eve of the Passover holiday, the weekly demonstration against home evictions took place in Sheikh Jarrah. Gil Hamershlag, a prominent Israeli HRD, was arrested by the police for allegedly disturbing a policeman while on duty and behaving in a way that can disturb public peace. The police claimed that while dispersing the demonstration, Hamershlag did not listen to police orders, and held a sign which hit the face of a policeman. They also claimed that he had resisted his arrest, and attacked the policemen who were trying to arrest him. 

Since he refused to sign his release terms when he was arrested, Hamershlag was kept in custody and brought to his arrest hearing on April 16th. Hamershlag’s refusal to sign is an act of solidarity with Palestinians who are detained under administrative detention, who announced they will stop cooperating with the Israeli judiciary system as long as they are kept in administrative detention (with no future release date). Hamershlag is a part of a group of prominent Israeli HRDs who decided to act in this way, should they be arrested, to show solidarity, and to protest this unjust mechanism by the state of Israel. 

At the arrest hearing, HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Nasser Odeh informed the court that the weekly demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah is a peaceful demonstration, and claimed that Hamershlag was arrested due to his political opinions with no actual grounds for arrest, as there is no evidence that the demonstration was illegal, and therefore there was no need to disperse it. Hamershlag also said that while being held in custody overnight, he was physically attacked by a guard, in the presence of a doctor, after he refused to be tested for Covid. 

The police requested that he be released with terms. Indeed, the judge has ruled on several terms: a ban from Sheikh-Jarrah for 10 days; arriving for investigation or court hearings as required; and bail, including a personal commitment. Since Hamershlag refused to sign once again, he was left in custody for another day. 

On his next hearing, on April 17th, 2022, Hamershlag still refused to sign any terms. Adv. Odeh suggested an alternative term, but as the judge rejected his suggestion, Hamershlag was arrested for two more days. Since Hamershlag’s arrest warrant was only until April 19th at 09 am, and the police have not submitted any new arrest request – on April 19th at around 1 pm, adv. Odeh submitted an urgent release request to the court, as Hamershlag’s arrest warrant was expired. Seeing that he was illegally arrested, and even though he did not fulfill the requested release terms – the judge has released him. 

HRDF will continue to stand in solidarity with East Jerusalem residents and with the Israeli and Palestinian HRDs working to protect their basic human rights. 

Arrest in the Old City in Jerusalem during the Flag March. Photograph by Oren Ziv, Activestills

Israeli Prosecution Drops Charges against an Israeli Human Rights Defender for Allegedly Threatening and Insulting a Police Officer 

On March 03rd, 2021, Israeli HRD Sisat Fante was indicted for allegedly threatening and insulting a police officer during a demonstration. Fante is a prominent HRD, one of the leaders of the demonstrations of the Israelis of Ethiopian origin against police brutality and racial profiling.

The police claimed that during a demonstration against police violence directed toward the Israeli-Ethiopian community, Fante insulted three Israeli police officers of Ethiopian origin and filmed them in the video which was directly uploaded to his Facebook page. 

On December 26th, 2021, the first hearing of Fante’s trial took place. HRDF-funded lawyer, adv. Barak Cohen, strongly insisted that Fante’s sayings were protected by freedom of speech. Adv. Cohen also claimed that this is an outrageous example of selective enforcement: Fante was indicted two months after he sued the police in civil court, claiming that he was individually persecuted for his political views and that he was falsely arrested.

Furthermore, Fante and another activist were sued in civil court by a police officer who was also the main prosecution witness in Fante’s criminal trial. The officer’s civil lawsuit was rejected after the officer declared – on record – that the sayings he attributed to Fante were not said by him.

Following this hearing and Adv. Cohen’s strong line of defense, the prosecution decided to cancel the indictment on February 21st, 2022.

This is only one example of the policy implied by the state, which criminalizes actions that fall under freedom of movement or freedom of speech to deter and harass prominent HRDs. Israeli HRDs of Ethiopian origin are even more exposed to such threat, as they are subject to institutional racism which is clearly expressed in the mistreatment they receive from the police.

You can read more about this case, and about police brutality toward the Israeli-Ethiopian community, here

Photograph by Oren Ziv

HRDF and the Movement for Freedom of Information Reveal Important Data regarding the Military Courts System 

The Military Courts system is a biased and unjust system, where Palestinians are indicted and trialed by the state of Israel in a separate legal system, showing the apartheid that lies at the base of the Israeli regime in the oPt. Additionally, due process rights differ immensely between Israeli courts and the military courts, and Palestinian suspects are facing much harsher offenses to their defendant’s rights. 

HRDF is one of the few Israeli organizations whose work revolves around the military courts: funding legal representation in arrest hearings and in trials, conducting tours with the international community, and researching this unjust system. Last year, together with the Movement for Freedom of Information – we submitted a freedom of information request to the military, asking for several different statistics of cases in the military court. This kind of data was not available to the public for fifteen years, as the last report on the subject, from Yesh Din, was published in 2007. 

The military’s answer to our request exposed some amazing figures, such as an unbelievable plea bargains percentage (99%) and an astonishingly low exoneration rate (only 0.3%).

We were not the only ones shocked by these numbers, and Haaretz newspaper recently published an article describing the military court system, using the data we have received. 

We strongly believe in the importance of clear data and hope that this information can be of use to the international community and to other human rights organizations, in their pursuit of justice in the Military Courts system. 

HRDF sent Urgent Reports to International Stakeholders

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. 

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. 

Between the end of February and the beginning of April 2022, we witnessed unusual persecution of the village of A-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills, and specifically the persecution of Palestinian and Israeli HRDs that work in the area. Testimonies collected from eyewitnesses point to an increasing number of military raids, especially at night. As no one was arrested, it seems that the raids’ sole purpose was to terrorize the Palestinian villagers; additionally, soldiers violently attacked Israeli and Palestinian activists who were documenting the raids. 

We believe that one of the main goals of this unjustified campaign of violence is the repression of joint Palestinian-Israeli non-violent resistance; this is just another way Israel is attempting to commit a forcible transfer in the South Hebron Hills, as you can also read about above regarding the court decision on firing zone 918 / Masafer Yatta villages. 

This is a highly pressing and concerning issue. HRDF condemns all violent attacks and works with partners in the international community to stop such forms of harassment of HRDs and civilians. 

Flag March in Jerusalem. Photograph by Oren Ziv, Activestills

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.