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

Criminalization of Human Rights Defenders in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Case of Sami Huraini:
On January 9th, 2021, Palestinian human rights defender Sami Huraini was arrested in his home in the middle of the night after participating in a non-violent protest near the village of A-Rakeez in the South Hebron Hills. The Palestinian residents of this area are frequently subjected to home demolitions, confiscation of essential equipment, harassment and ongoing attacks by violent settlers and the Israeli army.

The peaceful demonstration, in which no person was arrested, took place on January 8th and was organized to protest the shooting of A-Rakeez resident Harun Abu Aram, who was shot in the neck by the Israeli army on January 1st and is currently paralyzed and in critical condition.

Huraini was in detention until January 13th, when the Military Court of Ofer ordered his release on a bail of 10,000 ILS (approximately 2,530 Euros) and precautionary measures, which include arriving to the Kiryat Arba police station every Friday between 8:00-15:00. Huraini is represented by HRDF-funded lawyers, Adv. Gaby Lasky and Adv. Riham Nassra, who succeeded to release him after the military prosecution demanded to prolong his arrest until the end of proceedings, for allegedly assaulting a soldier. During the arrest proceedings, he was indicted for assault of a soldier, obstruction, and violation of a closed military zone. His next trial hearing is scheduled to be held on May 31st, 2021.

Huraini is a dominant activist and a member of the grassroot movement ‘Youth of Sumud’, an initiative that was established to peacefully protest the Israeli occupation and the illegal Israeli settlements in South Hebron Hills. It is believed that he was targeted precisely for his consistent peaceful resistance, as an ongoing attempt of the Israeli authorities to oppress the non-violent resistance of a new generation of human rights defenders in the OPT.

Sami Huraini, January 8, 2021, South Hebron Hills, Photograph by Keren Manor.

Case of Issa Amro:
On March 22nd, 2021, the Military Court sentenced human rights defender Issa Amro to a three-month suspended prison sentence for a probation period of two years, after being convicted of assault, taking part in an illegal march, disrupting a soldier, and taking part in an illegal demonstration. He was also fined for 3,500 ILS. All the incidents leading to the indictment involved peaceful activity on Amro’s behalf, followed by his assault by soldiers, police officers and settlers. Although the sentence does not include de facto imprisonment, it severely restricts Amro’s ability to pursue activities aimed at protecting and promoting human rights in the OPT, and to exercise his freedom of expression. It also creates a chilling effect on other human rights defenders who might fear facing similar criminal proceedings. Amro is represented by HRDF-funded lawyers Adv. Gaby Lasky and Adv. Riham Nassra, who filed a motion to appeal the verdict and the sentence.

Case of Nasser Nawaj’ah:
B’Tselem’s field researcher in the South Hebron Hills Nasser Nawaj’ah is a well-known human rights defender who documents human rights violations and faces continued harassment, arrests and intimidation by the Israeli authorities. On March 7th, 2021, he was held at a checkpoint near The Palestinian village of Khirbet Susiya and was summoned to an investigation by the Israeli Security Agency (ISA) the next day. He was further warned that failing to show up would result in his arrest. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Riham Nassra provided him with legal consultation before the interrogation. The next day, he was told by the ISA investigator that he is “causing trouble to the army” and was threatened that he could end up like Harun Abu Aram, who was shot in the neck by the Israeli army on January 1st after protecting his family’s generator.

Nasser Nawaj’ah, January 2016, Photograph by Oren Ziv

Case of Nasser al-Adra:
Nasser Suleiman al-Adra, is a human rights defender and a leader of the non-violent struggle and resistance for the past 20 years in the South Hebron Hills. On February 9th, 2021, he was taken from his home in the village of At-Tuwani by the Israeli army and was arrested. HRDF funded lawyer, Adv. Riham Nassra was able to locate al-Adra only after 15 hours in which he was detained and prevented food and water. The following morning, he was taken to the Kiryat Arba police station and interrogated on suspicion of stone-throwing. In the arrest hearing at the Military Court on February 11th, Adv. Nassra contended that the alleged event took place the previous week in a restricted military area that prevented entry to Israeli settlers due to increased violence attacks against Palestinians. Al-Adra admitted that he was there but denied the allegations against him and further claimed that the stone throwing was in fact executed by settlers from the outpost of Havat Maon. Despite videos documenting the event in which settlers attacked the Palestinian farmers with dogs and threw stones at them, the judge decided to prolong his arrest for four days. As the police investigation did not proceed to the court’s satisfaction, al-Adra was released on February 14th, pending 7,500 ILS bail and an obligation to attend further interrogations.

On April 6th, the military prosecution indicted al-Adra for an old incident dated May 2019. Al-Adra is accused of entering a restricted area after participating in a demonstration near the settlement of Mitzpe Yair, in which 17 Palestinian, Israeli and international protesters were arrested. Two years later, he was the only one indicted. Adv. Nassra is representing al-Adra in this case and his next hearing is scheduled for June 8th, 2021.

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.

Israel’s Criminalization of Children in the OPT

On March 10th, five Palestinian children between the ages of 8 and 13 were detained by the IDF in the village of Khirbet a-Rakeez in the South Hebron Hills. The children, Jaber, 13; Zeid, 12; Omar, 10 and Yassin and Saqr, both 8, were picking wild vegetables near the outpost of Havat Maon, when settlers called the soldiers who detained them for allegedly stealing parrots from the outpost.

The soldiers threatened the children at gunpoint and had them kneel on the ground before dragging them into their jeeps. The children were then left inside the locked vehicles for an hour and then taken to the Kiryat Arba Police station. HRDF-funded lawyers, Adv. Gaby Lasky and Adv. Riham Nassra were able to locate the children and after five hours under arrest, they were released. Three of the children who are under the age of criminal responsibility, were released without being interrogated, while Jabber and Zeid, who are over 12 years old, were released under condition that they attend another investigation. On March 14th, the two boys were interrogated for suspicion of trespass and theft and were then released. The alleged stolen parrots were never mentioned in their interrogation. Adv. Lasky and Adv. Nassra provided the children and their parents with legal counsel before the interrogations and filed a complaint to the Legal Advisor of the West Bank.

In a reply letter dated April 28th, the army informed Adv. Lasky that a military inquiry into the incident has found that it was improper to detain the three who were under the age of 12 but did not mention the allegation about an attempted theft. The army also acknowledged that several “mistakes” had been made regarding the incident, and that “it was possible to see that the age of some of the minors could be below the age of criminal responsibility” and detaining them was therefore wrong.

One of the children as he is being arrested, March 10, 2021, Photograph by Nasser Nawaj’ah, BT’selem.

Criminalization and Attacks Against Anti-Occupation Activists

Victory in Human Rights Defender’s Lawsuit Against a Right-Wing Activist for Defamation:

On March 7th, the Jerusalem District court accepted a defamation suit filed by human rights defender and member of Combatants for Peace, Neta Hazan, against a right-wing activist. The activist, Itzik Magrafta, alongside extreme-right NGO Ad-Kan, which aims to ‘expose’ groups it deems anti-Israeli, publicly accused Hazan of acting as an agent of the Palestinian Preventative Security Force. Following their allegations, Hazan and NGO Combatants for Peace became victims of an ongoing harassment, incitement, and defamation campaign. Hazan was represented by HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Carmel Pomerantz. The court ruled that Magrafta must compensate Hazan for 65,000 ILS and 17,500 ILS legal expenses.

In its ruling, the court accepted Adv. Pomerantz’s claim that the alleged incriminating documents used by Magrafta and disseminated by the Ad Kan right-wing group, are forged, or suspected as such. The Court was also convinced that Magrafta’s effort to harm Hazan was politically motivated and stated that he spread the fake report published by Ad-Kan which repeated that false allegations against Hazan, while relying on the forged document.

This was the first time that HRDF adopted a proactive approach and supported a civil lawsuit that was initiated by a human rights defender against extreme-right individual or NGO’s for their ongoing targeted efforts to harm those who advocate for human rights. We are proud of Hazan and Adv. Pomerantz for this important victory against these dangerous attempts.

Despite the court’s clear assertions, relentless Ad-Kan NGO has recently filed a defamation suit against Adv. Pomeratnz herself, after an opinion article she published in Haaretz newspaper following the legal victory. HRDF will continue to support fearless human rights defenders, including human rights lawyers, against those who attempt to silence them.

Same Demonstration, Different Verdict – One Activist Acquitted While Another is Convicted in Court Ruling:
On April 13th, 2021, the Magistrate’s Court in Jerusalem convicted human rights activist Jonathan Pollack of obstructing an officer during a demonstration against the occupation that took place in 2017 near Bethlehem. Activist Kobi Snitz, who was also at the demonstration, was acquitted of the same offences after being represented by HRDF-funded lawyers, Adv. Gaby Lasky and Adv. Riham Nassra. Pollack was sentenced to 30 days imprisonment and two months’ probation for the next two years. The 30 days prison sentence was deducted from the 45 days he already spent in detention after refusing to attend the court hearings in his case. The judge ruled that Pollack’s preliminary admission of the offence and his ideological based refusal to cooperate with the criminal proceedings had a great impact on his decision to convict him. The prosecution argued that the two activists stood in the way of a military jeep that was about to disperse a demonstration near the separation wall in Bethlehem in 2017. The Judge acquitted Snitz after accepting his version to the event, according to which he approached the officers to inquire about the arrest of Palestinian protester. The judge further stated that he found several contradictions in the officers’ testimonies. For example, the testimonies did not mention the use of force against Snitz, and after he was brought to the police stations, the report of his arrest was signed before his interrogation even started- an invalid procedure, according to the judge.

The judge was presented with a video of Pollack’s arrest that showed an officer arresting him while he sat on a traffic island and not in the middle of the road, as stated by the prosecution. During the trial, Adv. Lasky and Adv. Nassra argued for selective enforcement after the same charge against a Palestinian demonstrator who was arrested the same day- was dropped a year ago. Therefore, they claimed, all charges against the two activists should also be dropped. The judge stated that he does not need to discuss the issue of selective enforcement, as he already decided to acquit Snitz. Had the judge accepted this claim, he would have no choice but to also acquit Pollack. After the verdict, Adv. Lasky stated: “The charges in this case were baseless, as the two activists did not commit any offence. Even the Palestinian who was charged along with them was not indicted and his case was closed due to lack of evidence. This indictment and verdict are a testament to the policy that criminalizes Israeli activists who oppose the occupation and show solidarity with Palestinians in the OPT”.

Physical Attacks Against Human Rights Defender Rabbi Arik Ascherman:
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is a prominent human rights defender, and the founder of NGO Torat Tzedek, an organization that accompanies Palestinian farmers and protects them from violent settlers who try to take over Palestinian farmland, while attacking Palestinians and their property. Just like the Palestinians he accompanies, Ascherman fell victim to a number of violent attacks by settlers, who target him for his human rights work. Between January and March 2021, Ascherman filed no less than seven complaints to the police for various violent incidents in which he was severely attacked and injured, threatened, and risked his life after his car was sabotaged. Nevertheless, none of his attackers were located nor arrested and the police has closed one of the complaints. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Michal Pomeranz, who is representing Ascherman, has filed a concentrated complaint and is carefully following the investigation of the attacks to ensure the police effectively performs its investigational duties, in order to safeguard Rabbi Ascherman’s rights as an offence victim.

Demonstrations Across Israel Against Rising Violence and Police Incompetence to Challenge Crime in the Arab Community

During the months of January-February, thousands of people demonstrated against the rising violence in the Arab community and the police’s inability to deal with organized crime and its mounting victims across Israel. On January 10th, during a demonstration in the city of Umm al-Fahm, a minor boy was violently arrested by the police, who used severe brutality against the protesters, including the use of dangerous water cannons. The boy was accused of participating in a riot and in an illegal gathering. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Amer Yassin, visited the boy at the police station and provided him with legal counsel before his investigation. The next day, Adv. Yassin represented the minor in court, following the police’s request to prolong his arrest for five more days. Adv. Yassin succeeded to release the boy for a 5,000 ILS bail and a ban from demonstrations for 10 days. The judge criticized the police’s conduct during the arrest and investigation.

On January 13th, a 20-year-old student joined a protest in the city of Nazareth during the visit of the Prime Minister, due to the inadequate governmental action in the face of rising crime and growing victims in the Arab society. During the demonstration, police forces employed disproportional dispersal measures, including water cannons. The student was falsely arrested with ten other protesters and was accused of obstructing an officer and participating in an illegal gathering. He was represented by HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Amer Yassin, who visited him in the police station and represented him in court the following day after the police requested to prolong his arrest for seven days. Adv. Yassin succeeded to release the student to a two-day house arrest, and for a bail of 10,000 ILS.

On February 7th, another Palestinian student participated in a demonstration at the Tel-Aviv University. During the protest, he was falsely arrested by the police and taken to the police station. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Asaf Weitzen, visited him at the police station and provided him with legal consultation before his investigation. The student was released that evening for a bail of 2,000 ILS and a seven day ban from the protest location.

The disproportional amount of force employed against protesters, who are crying for the police to take action and eradicate organized crime in their own communities, is highly disturbing and HRDF will continue to support human rights defenders who wish to protest Israel’s failure to protect its Arab civilians and secure their life and safety.

Continued Struggle of Bedouin Citizens for the Recognition of their Land Rights

On February 22nd, 15 Arab Bedouin citizens were falsely arrested while protesting State tractors ploughing the land of their villages of al-Ġarrah, Al-Ruʾays and Saʿwah, and cutting off a pipe that provides clean drinking water for residents. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Shahda Ibn Bari, provided legal consultation to 10 of the arrestees at the police station and succeeded to release them. In the same event, the police arrested a minor for suspicion of throwing stones and assaulting an officer. Adv. Ibn Bari provided him with legal counsel prior to his investigation and represented him in court the next day, following the police’s request to prolong his arrest for five days. Adv. Ibn Bari succeeded to release the boy to house arrest with a bail of 12,000 ILS. The state filed an appeal against the release of the minor to the District Court. Adv. Ibn Bari successfully represented the minor in the state’s appeal, which was dismissed by the court.

Israeli police detain Bedouin women during a march in the unrecognized village of al-‘Arāqīb, July 24, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv)

On March 30th, the residents of the village of al-‘Arāqīb participated in a protest event to mark Land Day, in memory of the Palestinian people who lost their lives, homes, and against the ongoing Israeli policy of land appropriation and demolitions. To date, the entire village was demolished by the Israeli authorities 186 times. Before the event started, human rights defender Aziz Abu Madhi’m was arrested by the police for suspicion of trespassing into his own village. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Ibn Bari, provided him legal consultation at the police station prior to his interrogation, after which he was immediately released with no conditions. The following day, Bedouin human rights defender, Said Abu Madhi’m was also summoned to the police station for suspicion of trespassing into his village. Adv. Ibn Bari provided him with legal counsel at the police station prior to his interrogation, after which he was also immediately released with no conditions.

It seems that the purpose of these arbitrary arrests and interrogations is to deter and intimidate prominent Bedouin activists from pursuing their struggle for land rights and recognition by the state. HRDF will continue to support indigenous Bedouin defenders active in the struggle for land rights, human rights, and recognition, who face ongoing harassment, false arrests, and legal prosecution.

Please contact HRDF staff for any questions: [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.