The State of Human Rights Defenders – March 2024 Newsletter 

Newsletter Contents

  • HRDF’s work since the war

  • Crackdown on dissent / Weaponization of the anti-terror laws

  • Administrative detention – Munther Amira

  • Ethnic cleansing in oPt – military/settler complicity and Article 33


When we sent out our last periodic newsletter in October, we wrote about a number of alarming trends that had exponentially exacerbated since the start of Israel’s war on Gaza and the sweeping crackdown on human rights that ensued. We noted exponential rates of settler violence and complicity between settlers and military forces; systematic ethnic cleansing in Area C; brutal repression of freedom of speech inside Israel as well as the West Bank; rising rates of detention and incarceration; and complete closure of civic space in public discourse, including widespread criminalization of dissent.

In the several months that have passed, these trends have become the norm. At HRDF, we have worked around the clock to provide legal support in light of the massive rates of arrest, to equip HRDs with tools to navigate sweeping political repression, and to proactively challenge these human rights violations in the courts. In the last five months, the number legal cases per month has on average doubled (where we usually average around 10-12 legal cases per month, since October we have rendered legal aid in about 20-25 per month).

Between October 7th and February, HRDF rendered legal aid in 109 cases, to 155 human rights defenders. Of these, between October and February, 45 cases were of legal support provided in violations of freedom of expression. Six of these cases dealt directly with arrests or indictments under the Anti-terror laws of HRDs who are Palestinian citizens of Israel, and one dealt with an arrest targeting a Jewish leftwing activist under suspicions of treason. Since the start of the war, HRDF has rendered legal aid to 20 HRDs arrested during their participation in public anti-war demonstrations. Other legal defense cases against violations of freedom of expression have included SLAPP suits to silence activists and organizations and cases of various forms of punitive censorship. Between October and February, 32 HRDF-funded cases for 53 HRDs dealt with incidents of settler violence, including incidents in which settler shot live ammunition at HRDs, incidents in which settlers violently assaulted HRDs, and incidents in which settlers destroyed and damaged property of Palestinian and Israeli HRDs, all in service of the systematic agenda to expel Palestinians from their lands in Area C. Between October and February, 23 HRDF-funded cases dealt with military harassment and abuse, including incidents of arbitrary detention, brutally violent arrests, and active complicity with settler violence.

that the petitioners did not allow enough time for the Civil Administration to render a response to their request for Amro to be allowed to return to his home. The Courts ruled that upon receiving a reply from the military, Amro may submit a petition again.

Crackdown on Freedom of Expression

Anti-terror laws weaponized against legitimate public dissent

As many human rights organizations and public media have already noted, the commencement of Israel’s war on Gaza in the wake of the October 7th Hamas attack on Israel has given cover and justification for Israeli state authorities to punitively crack down on all forms of legitimate political expression and dissent. The following are several noteworthy cases:

1. In December 2023, Palestinian attorney and journalist Amal Oraby was summoned for interrogation by the police on suspicions of violating public order, identifying with a terrorist organization, and incitement to terrorism, following a complaint submitted by right-wing lobbyist Shay Glick, after Oraby publicly described Itamar Ben Gvir as “the official spokesperson of the neo-Nazi fascist right in Israel.” Oraby, a frequent guest contributor on the Kan 11 channel television program “The Other Side” with Guy Zohar, had also been suspended by Kan from television appearances on the network in the wake of these remarks. Glick has targeted Oraby several times before the outbreak of the war, which has included complaints with Kan Broadcasting regarding Oraby’s past appearances, lawsuits threats, and police complaints for Oraby’s public, which went unheeded until Glick’s most recent complaints post-October. Oraby was released without charge — however, the summoning of him to interrogation under Anti-Terror laws is part and parcel of the sweeping chilling effect on any expressions of political dissent in the wake of October.

2. HRDF has already sent out several updates on the case of our esteemed colleague and close legal partner Adv. Ahmed Khalefa, who was violently arrested during his participation in an anti-war protest in Umm al Fahm on October 19th, and subsequently indicted on incitement to terrorism and identifying with a terrorist organization, which combined carries with them a prison sentence of up to eight years. (The second defendant in the case, Muhammad Jabarin, is being represented by the legal advocacy organization Adalah, with whom HRDF is working closely on all aspects of the case). Khalefa spent four months in Megiddo security prison and Gilboa security prison, during which he described horrific abuse and conditions tantamount to torture, including mass food deprivation, humiliating and systematic abuse at the hands of guards, no heating and lack of clothing, solitary confinement, and a harrowing incident in which an inmate in a neighboring cell was denied medical treatment following multiple beatings and died of injuries to his intestines.

During these four months, HRDF-funded attorney Afnan Khalifa attempted over several detention hearings to secure Ahmad’s release from prison to house arrest. Finally, in February, a Supreme Court judge ruled to overturn the decision of the District Court and release Ahmad to house arrest with an electronic ankle monitor, declaring in court that: “What happens during a detention is a far more serious injury [than what happens during a protest]. It is an extremely grave violation to keep a person detained before their trial. It is a violation of human rights.” HRDF brought this story to the Guardian, which contextualized Ahmad’s detention and trial as part and parcel of the sweeping persecution of political dissent and closure of civic space in the wake of October. The preliminary hearings in Ahmad’s trial have already taken place last month, and the evidence hearings are set to begin at the start of April.

3. In November, HRDF-funded attorney Tamir Blank represented Palestinian human rights defender Salah Diab, who is a fixture in the Sheikh Jarrah protests against the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem, in the case against his unlawful termination from his employment at the Israeli grocery store Shufersal due to his political activism. After commencing legal procedures to reinstitute Diab to employment due to wrongful termination, Diab was re-hired in a different store branch.

This crackdown has swept through all levels of society inside Israel, criminalizing teachers, lawyers, political representatives, professors, doctors, and workers (In our previous newsletter, we also reported on the case of Amer al Huzail, a doctor of political science who was detained for more than a week on suspicions of “aiding the enemy during wartime” after publishing an academic analysis on Facebook). As we have said before, the repeated targeting and violent persecution of Palestinians who exercise their basic rights to freedom of speech, assembly and expression in order to oppose Israel’s horrific and criminal war on Gaza serves one purpose: to silence and lock away all forms of dissent. This crackdown is intended as a warning to the entire Palestinian community to, for lack of a better phrase, “shut up or face the consequences.” We reject this mob-minded ethnonationalist mentality, which equates all forms of solidarity with Palestinian people as equivalent to terrorism, and we stand resolutely behind human rights defenders who refuse to be muzzled by the violent machinations of repression and censorship under the Israeli state.

The emotional reunion between Ahmad Khalefa and his family on Feburary 9th upon his release from prison after 114 days, following his arrest for participating in an anti-war protest in Umm Al-Fahm in solidarity with Gazans under bombardement. Couurtesy of a close friend of the Khalefa family.

Administrative Detention of HRDs

Since the outbreak of the war, the number of people detained and held in Israeli prisons has skyrocketed, due to mass arrests and detention of Palestinians through mechanisms such as administrative detention, illegal applications of military law, and round-ups of Gazans stranded inside Israel after their permits were revoked in October. According to statistics from Israeli Prison Services and HaMoked, as of March 2024, a record number of 9,077 people are being held in Israeli security prisons – of those, 39% (3,558) are administrative detainees, 29% (2,656) are being held as remand detainees in pre-trial incarceration, and only 23% (2,070) are actually serving sentences after conviction. Compared to the number of security prisoners held before October 7th (on average between 4,000-5,000), rates of imprisonment have doubled in the last five months, with the majority being administrative detainees held without charge or trial.

Human rights organizations have reported systematic torture and abuse occurring inside Israeli prisons, which has caused at least ten deaths inside custody since October due to torture, deprivation of basic survival needs, medical negligence, and complete lack of judicial review on treatment inside prisons. As Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir bragged in a recent tweet, security prisoners “receive the most stringent conditions: eight handcuffed terrorists in a dark cell, iron beds, toilets in a hole in the floor, and Israel’s national anthem constantly playing in the background.” (See also this interview with PCATI’s Executive Director Tal Steiner in The New Yorker, which outlines broad trends of torture during this period).

In several recent updates, HRDF has reported on the case of Palestinian human rights defender Munther Amira Al Waara, who was violently arrested from his home in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, in a raid on his home during which Israeli soldiers tied up his children, tore the clothing off of one of his sons, and beat his brother so severely that he required extended hospitalization. Al Waara was initially arrested under criminal suspicions and interrogated for “incitement” over two Facebook posts that showed videos of orphaned Gazan children in desperation after airstrikes. Soon after, the Israeli Security Services (Shabak) requested of the military court to hold Munther in administrative detention for four months until April, a request that was ultimately granted by the judge. HRDF-funded attorney Adv. Riham Nassra repeatedly attempted to secure Munther’s release from administrative detention, appealing multiple times to the Military Court. Although we were unable to view the charges or evidence against Munther due to the nature of administrative detention cases, it was immediately clear that Munther had been targeted due to his political activism. We understood that because the evidence against him was not strong enough to criminally charge him on “incitement”, state authorities opted to hold him in administrative detention to prevent any future political organizing against the war. Indeed, during one of the appeal hearings, as recorded in the court protocol, the military judge affirmed that “what we’re talking about is incitement,” and the military prosecutor acceded that “there is no indication of intent to conduct a militant action in the future” – clearly indicating that Munther was not being held for the purposes of containing a security threat, but rather to prevent the exercising of legitimate political expression by Munther.

In the late night of February 29th, 2024, Munther was spontaneously released from arbitrary detention with no explanation after three months in Ofer Prison, along with 40 additional administrative detainees. This occurred three days after HRDF-funded attorneys Adv. Riham Nassra and Adv. Michal Pomeranz filed a lengthy emergency petition to the Israeli Supreme Court on February 26th to contest the instance of administrative detention being deployed to imprison a peaceful human rights activist on the basis of preventing future political organizing. We hoped that if the petition was successful, it would also lay an important legal basis to advocate for the release of other HRDs wrongly incarcerated in administrative detention in the future. HRDF and Munther’s HRDF-funded lawyers suspect that the filing of the Supreme Court Petition three days prior (in addition to the several advocacy initiatives conducted on Munther’s behalf over past months) was a significant source of pressure that contributed to Munther being one of the 40 who were released. We also suspect that the Israeli state did not want to hear a case in the Supreme Court that might result in a decision that could affect their continuing rampant abuse of administrative detention. The administrative detention order against Munther was officially canceled in early March.

This week, Munther Amira spoke with Ha’aretz journalist Gideon Levy on his imprisonment and what he survived there, comparing the treatment as tantamount to the reports of torture coming out of Guantanamo Bay in the 2000s. Over his three months in detention, Munther lost 33 kilos (73 pounds) due to systemic food deprivation, and also disclosed instances of sexual abuse, routine beatings with truncheons, and being left shackled for days on end during which he was forced to go to the bathroom on himself. When one cellmate attempted suicide and his cellmates called the guards for medical help, the guards arrived only to beat them all for calling for help. In the words of Munther: “Mahmoud Darwish wrote that the prisoners are the source of hope of the Palestinian people. That is no longer true. It’s the first time that detainees are trying to commit suicide. The first time I felt that the door of the cell is the door of a grave. An Israeli prison is now a graveyard for the living.

Munther Amira, returning to Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, the night of his spontaneous release from administrative detention on February 29th. Credit: Anonymous.

Ethnic Cleansing in the oPt

As many human rights organizations and public media have already reported, ethnic cleansing of Palestinian communities in Area C skyrocketed in the wake of October. B’tselem has documented 16 Palestinian communities that have been expelled since the outbreak of the war, due to the inability to withstand the extreme settler and military violence, and the fact that for several weeks after the war, Israeli HRDs were unable to provide “protective presence” in an organized manner in the West Bank.

The Illegal Application of Article 33

Furthermore, since October, military authorities have illegally applied a certain ordinance of the military code – Article 33 – as the indiscriminate basis for arrests of Palestinians under military law. Article 33 stipulates that those arrested in combat zones of IDF operational activity may be detained for 8 days (192 hours) before being brought before a military court judge, but this ordinance is being broadly used to arrest all Palestinians whether they are arrested inside a combat zone or not. This ordinance has been deployed repeatedly to arrest Palestinian residents in villages resisting expulsion in Area C, in clear service of the agenda of ethnic cleansing of the area. Unlike Article 31 (the usual ordinance deployed before the war that allows Palestinians to be held up to 96 hours before being brought before a court), Article 33 cannot be appealed under military law, and so there is no legal recourse inside military courts to challenge the illegal application of this ordinance.

In light of this, on March 6th, 2024, HRDF petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court (along with co-petitioners HaMoked and ACRI) against the illegal use of Article 33, and the state is expected to deliver its response to our petition by the end of the month. In the petition we cited six incidents of arrests for which HRDF rendered legal aid, of 16 Palestinians (which included 6 children/minors and 9 shepherds arrested during shepherding) detained under the illegal application of Article 33. We ask the international community to raise this issue in your political advocacy as this petition against the use of Article 33 approaches its hearing in the Supreme Court.

Settler Violence and Military Complicity

Over the past months, HRDF has also provided legal defense in a number of cases relating to extreme settler violence, a main tool of expulsion attempts in Area C. A phenomenon worth noting is that since the outbreak of the war, these settlers often harass Palestinians while donning their reservist military uniforms as part of being called up for active duty since October, which makes it difficult for Palestinians to discern whether settlers are operating on military directives or not. The fact that they are on duty in uniform also gives settlers additional legal cover to mount terror against Palestinians without repercussion, especially if the settlers are already operating as Security Coordinators in settlements, and now have additional authority and jurisdiction given to them as reservist soldiers. These cases include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • During the night of November 29, 2023, a group of settlers led by a man identified as Zohar Sabah invaded the community of Palestinian shepherds in the village of Marjat. During the incident, they invaded the home of Jamal Malihat (Palestinian shepherd and land defender), threatened the family using cold weapons, stole a number of Jamal’s goats and took his identity card. The settlers wore military uniforms and told Jamal that he was called for interrogation. HRDF-funded attorney Riham Nasra investigated the matter with the Binyamin police, who reported that Jamal was not needed for investigation by the police, and that this statement was only a harassment tactic by the invading settlers.

  • On February 13th, 2024, military forces arrived to the Masafer Yatta village of Umm Al-Kheir and began to search the houses. Soldiers entered the home of Eid Al-Hathaleen, a known human rights defender and volunteer documenter at B’Tselem, during which time they seized large amounts of money, gold, cameras, laptops, cellular devices, as well as the family’s passports. Eid was then taken to a military base and later to the Hebron police where he was questioned on suspicion of interfering with a soldier and harming the security of the area. He received a consultation from HRDF-funded attorney Adv. Riham Nasra, who also provided military authorities with video evidence that Eid did not interfere with the military’s search. Eid was released following the interrogation, summoned for questioning again the following day, and then released. He had all of his stolen property returned to him, following his release from the second interrogation without charge.

  • On January 28th, 2024, Palestinian HRD Muhammad Rabaei was arrested by Israeli military authorities in the South Hebron Hills, Area C of the West Bank, after a confrontation following a settler invasion into his village of Tuwani (of which he is the informal “mayor”). As has been common in the past several months, settlers from the nearby unauthorized illegal outpost of Havat Ma’on descended into the area of the village dressed in reservist uniforms, and began to harass local Palestinian shepherds who were bringing their flock to graze on Palestinian land. Rabaei arrived at the scene at the request of the shepherds, and intervened in order to provide support and persuade the settlers to cease their harassment of the shepherds. The soldiers that arrived at the scene warned Rabaei that if he did not leave immediately, he would be detained and arrested. Rabaei refused to abandon the shepherds being harassed, and was arrested as a result. Rabaei was held in military detention for eight nights before being brought before a judge, under Article 33 of the military code. Once he was finally released from detention after nine days, Rabaei was indicted for “obstructing a soldier,” while none of the settlers who invaded his village and caused the confrontation were even questioned and certainly none were arrested or charged. It is following this case that HRDF decided to petition the Supreme Court against the use of Article 33.

  • On December 8th, 2023, military and settlers invaded the Masafer Yatta community of Khalet A-Daba and began violently searching the houses there. Village resident Saleh Dababsa, a farmer and land defender, was arrested from his home and interrogated at Hebron Police Station on suspicions of possessing weapons and ammunition in his home – Dababsa stated that the “weaponry” was kitchen knives, and there was no fingerprint match on the seized ammunition of which he was accused of possessing. Following his interrogation, he was released without condition. During his arrest, Dababsa was violently beaten and brutalized, but despite his request of the investigator to document the bruises, the police refused to document the bruises caused by the violent arrest.

  • On November 11th, 2023, settlers from the illegal unauthorized outpost Havat Yehuda entered the village of Tiran Al-Samoa and imprisoned the residents inside the houses as they vandalized the community and smashed property and cars. The settlers, some masked, threatened the residents to abandon their homes on threat of further violence if they remained. HRDF-funded attorney Riham Nassra provided with the victims of the attack with a consultation prior to submitting a complaint to the police about the incident.

  • On the night of December 4th, 2023, settlers arrived in the Bedouin community of Farsiya in the north Jordan Valley and began to throw stones into tents of the residents. One of the protective presence activists there, Gil Alexander, was sprayed with pepper spray by a settler after attempting to intervene, and another activist Sasha Povlitzky received a head injury after attempting to protect Gil from the assailant, for which he required emergency medical attention. HRDF-funded attorney Riham Nassra provided the activists with consultation before submitting a complaint to the police. Despite the clearly documented incident of the settler assault, and the resulting head injury that it caused him, HRD Sasha Povlitzky was summoned to the police station the following week and interrogated himself on suspicion of assault after the interrogators accused him of attacking the settlers while they were working their land. The week after, HRD Gil Alexander was also summoned for questioning by the police about the incident. Both were released following questioning with a 14-day ban from the Jordan Valley.

  • On December 17th, 2023, Louie Abu Mahsan and his brother Barakhat, of the bedouin village Farsiya in the north Jordan Valley, were out shepherding when the settler Ben Didi (from the nearby unauthorized outpost founded by Didi) arrived, beat Barakhat with a club, and stabbed him in the leg with a knife. Barakhat was taken to the hospital, and Adv. Riham Nassra provided Louis with a consultation before filing a complaint with the police. Investigators refused to give Louis confirmation of receipt of the complaint, and when Nassra contacted the police station to check on the status of the complaint, she received no answer as to whether the suspects were apprehended or questioned on the incident. Nassra requested that the Prosecutor’s Office open a case against the suspect, since his identity was known came to file a complaint, but it is unclear whether prosecution of the assailant will be pursued.


Settlers and their army friends arrive in the Turmos Ayya area of the West Bank during an annual olive harvest to harass and chase Palestinian farmers and the Jewish HRDs accompanying them. December 2023. Photo credit: Jordan Valley Activists.

The cases enumerated above are but a select few in a sea of cases in which HRDs have been criminalized, persecuted, prosecuted, assaulted, and imprisoned for their human rights activities amidst unbearable state repression, closure of civic space, and systematic policies of apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

These HRDs stand at the frontlines of the fight to preserve basic freedoms and rights for all people between the river and the sea, and we reiterate our mission to provide them with expert legal protection and tools to continue their work in the face of all odds. We applaud those who resist and challenge the violence of Israeli state policies and practice, and we will continue to stand beside them as they defend human rights for all people, no matter the cost.

For questions or matters relating to HRDF’s work, please contact us at: [email protected]