Criminalization of Palestinians in the Military Courts & Use of Civil Proceedings Against Human Rights Defenders
While the efforts of the Israeli authorities to criminalize peaceful opposition to the occupation persist, the Human Rights Defenders Fund continues to support Palestinian defenders and human rights attorneys in the Military Courts. Alongside, one of the leading trends we are witnessing is the rise of civil lawsuits against human rights NGOs and defenders, filed by the state, right-wing NGOs or individuals, with the intention to silence and deter defenders and create a chilling effect. In order to protect the defenders from these attacks and enable them to carry out their human rights work, HRDF has recruited leading expert lawyers to provide them with the finest legal defense.
Upcoming Verdict in the Trial of Prominent Palestinian Human Rights Defender Issa Amro at Ofer Military Court:
Issa Amro is the founder and coordinator of “Youth Against Settlements” in Hebron and a UN recognized human rights defender, who has been a target of constant harassment by the Israeli army and the Hebron settlers as a direct result of his non-violent struggle against the Israeli occupation. On June 7th, 2016, Amro was indicted on 18 charges of assaulting a public officer; obstructing a soldier; incitement; entering a restricted area; participating in an illegal march; assaulting a soldier; assault; property damage and insulting a soldier. He is represented by HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Gaby Lasky.
All the incidents leading to the indictment involved peaceful activity on Amro’s behalf, followed by his assault by soldiers and the police which required medical treatment.
The prosecution and defense submitted their closing arguments, and the verdict is expected to be announced by the end of December 2020. Amro is one of several Palestinian human rights defenders who are being criminalized by the Israeli authorities using “blanket indictments” which turn their legitimate non-violent opposition to the occupation into criminal offences.
We urge the international community to voice its concern for the upcoming judgment and express Israel’s duty to respect the rights of human rights defenders and political expression in the oPt.
Summary of Incidents Leading to the Indictment: In the first incident, which took place on August 2010, Amro was charged with assault, obstruction and incitement. According to Amro, he was near the outpost “Hill 18” outside the settlement of Kiryat Arba where a protest was taking place. He was taking testimonies from Palestinian families who were constantly being attacked by the outpost’s residents, when he received a call from the neighbors of the Palestinian family living in the house closest to the outpost, informing him that the family was under a stone-throwing attack. Amro called B’Tselem, which called the police, the Red Cross, and TIPH. However, the first to arrive were the Kiryat Arba civilian security team. Border Police forces arrived later and arrested Amro using violence, assaulting him in the jeep during the journey to the police station and inside the police station itself. He was released by a court order several days later.
In the second incident on the indictment, which took place in April 2012, Amro was charged with entering a restricted area, participating in an illegal march, incitement and obstructing a soldier, all of which occurred during a forcible removal from a house in Hebron. Amro was charged with entering a closed property (which according to the indictment is owned by the Government of Israel) together with a group of activists and refusing to vacate the premises. Amro contended he had rented the house from a Hebron Women’s Association, which had received it from the City of Hebron. The house is located in Area H2, where the City of Hebron controls civilian affairs, and no area is restricted. Amro and the group had been cleaning the house when the soldiers’ showed up and demanded they vacate the premises. Twenty minutes later, the group was forcibly removed and Amro was arrested. He was released by a court order several days later. In a hearing on September 22nd, 2019, adv. Lasky presented the court with the signed contract between the Hebron Women’s Association and Amro, proving that there is no basis for the military prosecution’s claim that the house was a restricted area Amro could not enter.
The next incident on the indictment occurred during a demonstration held in March 2013. Amro was accused of participating in an illegal march, while allegedly leading dozens of demonstrators towards the Jewish settlement of “Beit Hadasa” in Hebron. Protesters wore masks featuring the faces of former US President Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Jr. and T-shirts printed with the phrase “I have a dream”. They were carrying PLO flags and photos of prisoners. Amro told the court that during this incident (and others like it), he was exercising his rights under international law, to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. On that day, Amro was arrested with two other Palestinians and three Israelis. In the hearing on September 22nd, the last witness for the defense claimed that as the march began, a group of settlers attacked Amro and that soon after soldiers arrived, arrested him and took him away blindfolded.
During the fourth incident in the indictment, which took place on July 2013, Amro, followed by a group of international journalists, tried to enter a Palestinian shop and went through a checkpoint near the Tomb of the Patriarchs. A soldier detained him and held on to his ID card. Amro was charged with insulting the soldier by allegedly swearing at him. He was arrested, while shouting and complaining about the soldiers assaulting him. Amro was taken from the police station by ambulance to receive medical treatment. He was interrogated at the police station the following day and filed a complaint against the soldiers who assaulted him. He was released shortly after.
In the fifth incident included in the indictment, which occurred in February 2016, Amro was charged with entering a closed military zone and incitement during a demonstration calling to open the Shuhada Street in Hebron. Amro denied the soldiers’ account of the events, saying he left the area as soon as he heard the soldiers announcing the closed military zone order. He said he had not been one of the leaders of the demonstration, and that the march was held in a non-restricted area. Amro was arrested only three days later and released the following day. The demonstration, according to Amro, had been organized by several political and religious institutions in Hebron, and was forcibly dispersed by soldiers who used tear gas against the protesters. In the hearing on September 22nd, 2019, the last witness for the defense showed a video taken at the demonstration, proving that Amro was not the leader of the protest.
As Amro’s case demonstrates, the military judicial system has been successful in efficiently restricting the freedom of speech and protest of many Palestinian human rights defenders who are left completely exposed to criminalization, detention and imprisonment by being systematically charged on various counts solely due to their work promoting human rights in the oPt, in violation of international law. HRDF will continue to stand in solidarity with human rights defender Issa Amro in support of his struggle to peacefully protest the violations of Palestinians’ rights under the Israeli occupation.
Issa Amro, March 20, 2013, Hebron, Photograph by Yotam Ronen
During the past months, HRDF continued to support human rights attorneys who protect Palestinians’ rights in the oPt, particularly the victims of settlers’ violence. Here are their stories:
The Case of Amer Abu-Hijleh
In April 2020, during the Covid-19 lockdown, Amer Abu-Hijleh from the village of Deir-Istiya, discovered that settlers from the nearby settlement Yakir, were building a swimming pool on his private land. After submitting a complaint to the Civil Administration and proving his ownership over the land – a rare occurrence, on July 21st, the swimming pool was demolished by the Israeli authorities. After finding out that the settlers had rebuilt the pool, on October 7th, Abu-Hijleh visited the site accompanied by Israeli anti-occupation activists. They started blocking the pool with rocks when the Civilian Security Coordinator of Yakir arrived and called the Police. The police then relied on an old false complaint of a settler against Abu-Hiljeh for an alleged assault that took place in May and arrested him for assault and destruction of property. Activist Jonathan Pollack who accompanied him was also arrested for destruction of property. The officer on the ground refused to hear their account of the story and refused to look at the Civil Administration documents which establish Abu-Hiljeh’s ownership over the land. While Pollack was released that day, Abu-Hijleh stayed in detention for two days.
Although the Military Prosecution asked to prolong his arrest for five more days, HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Riham Nassra (from Adv. Gaby Lasky Law Office), succeeded to release him on ILS 3,000 bail. On October 15th, Abu-Hiljeh was summoned for a police investigation on suspicion for the same offences. Fortunately, he received legal advice from Adv. Nassra and was released following the investigation. This case well reflects the reality of apartheid in the oPt and the joint forces employed by the army, police, and settlers in order to take over Palestinian lands. In this unjust reality it is vital to provide Palestinian victims of settlers and the army, with the best legal defense to minimize the violation of their rights.
Abu-Hiljeh and the pool that settlers built on his land, Photograph by Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills
The Case of Fares Awad
On October 6th, Fares Awad from the village of Khirbet al-Ta’ala in the south Hebron hills, was out herding his family’s sheep near his home, when settlers from the nearby outpost came and started attacking him with stones. Awad, his family and the residents of the area face constant attacks and property destruction by the settlers from the neighboring illegal outposts. That day, the settlers’ dog started attacking Awad’s sheep and as a result six sheep were severely injured, and one died. As an act of self-defense, Awad threw stones at the dog to protect his sheep and was filmed by the settlers doing so. When he saw that the attackers will not leave, he called his dad for help. His dad then called that police and the army to come and help them. The police arrived and sent the settlers and Awad to their homes. An hour later, officers showed up at Awad’s house and arrested him for assault. His arrest was prolonged, while his attackers were not arrested, although the family filed a police complaint against them for assault.
HRDF-funded lawyer, Riham Nassra submitted an appeal for his release, and it was rejected by the Military Court, which dismissed Awad’s account of the event. On October 12th, he was indicted for stone throwing and his arrest was prolonged until the end of proceedings. Adv. Nassra filed another appeal and on October 26th, she succeeded to release Awad for a house arrest, enabling him to herd his sheep for two km from his home. His father was required to deposit ILS 5,000 bail for his release. Awad spent 22 days in total under arrest after being attacked by settlers near his home, and is now charged with offence of stone throwing, facing a criminal trial. This case demonstrates the inherent bias of the Israeli law enforcement and judicial systems in the oPt, which criminalize the victims of settlers’ violence while granting the attackers impunity. It is therefore crucial to provide Palestinian victims at the Military Court with effective and professional legal defense. In this case, despite the severity of ‘stone throwing’ offence and against all odds, Adv. Nassra succeeded to prevent Awad’s arrest until the end of proceedings. The next hearing in his trial is scheduled for January 17th, 2021.
SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) – The New Strategy of State Authorities and Non-State Actors to Silence Human Rights Defenders Who Oppose the Occupation:
In the past year HRDF has witnessed concentrated efforts to delegitimize and restrict the struggle against the occupation through civil proceedings, specifically by SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) which are filed against human rights defenders by state authorities, right-wing NGOs or individuals. Most of these lawsuits are filed for defamation, violation of privacy or copyrights, following testimonies and reports of human rights defenders, usually on social media, as part of their human rights work. Such lawsuits are intended to silence defenders and create a chilling effect which will prevent future defenders from dealing with those issues in the future. Following are some examples of SLAPP cases against defenders who oppose the occupation.
Barel v. Hirschfeld
Guy Hirschfeld is a veteran Ta’ayush activist in the Jordan Valley and South Hebron Hills who has been persecuted for his human rights activity for several years by the authorities and by Israeli settlers and right-wing NGOs. Hirschfeld has been promoting human rights for years in the West Bank, by accompanying children and farmers and protecting them from settlers’ violence, providing and placing infrastructure, and documenting human rights violations and settlers’ violence. In March 2018 Hirschfeld documented an officer who participated in an unveiling ceremony of an illegal monument built on private Palestinian land. Later, the same officer arrived at pasture lands where Hirschfeld was accompanying Palestinian shepherds, and ordered them to leave the place which he falsely claimed was a restricted military zone. Hirschfeld obeyed while documenting the event and later posted the video on his social media account, stating that the officer’s conduct was illegal. Two years later, the officer sued Hirschfeld for defamation in the amount of ILS 55,000. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Carmel Pomerantz, who is representing Hirschfeld, submitted the Statement of Defense and a hearing has yet to be scheduled.
Yehoshua Sherman v. BT’selem, Zehava Galon, Yossi Gurvitz, Yariv Oppenheimer and Dean Issacharoff
In April 2019, Bt’selem published an investigation of a killing incident which concluded that in April 2019, a settler executed Muhammad ‘Abd al-Fatah, who was throwing stones at cars. The investigation found that, contrary to was what reported in the media, the settler, Yeshoua Sherman, along with another settler who drove by and pulled over, shot al-Fatah twice and after injuring him, shot him again several more times when he was already lying down injured on the ground. The defendants, three human rights defenders and former Knesset member, Galon, referred to the BT’selem investigation on their social media and in a newspaper opinion article, and were consequently sued for libel by Sherman for ILS 500,000. BT’selem was also sued by Sherman for their investigation. Galon was further sued by the Samaria Regional Council after she criticized it for supporting the shooters and awarding them a civil certificate. The fact that Haaretz Newspaper, which published the opinion article about the incident, written by the defendant Issacharoff, was not sued, shows that the main goal of the lawsuit is to silence the political expression of the defenders. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Ishay Shneidor is representing Galon, Gurvitz, Oppenheimer and Issacharoff.
Bar-Yosef v. Kerem-Navot
Kerem-Navot is an NGO which monitors Israeli land policy in the oPt. On May 26th, 2020, Kerem Navot published a post on Facebook in which they reported about a settler named Bar-Yosef, and his life’s work- a massive illegal outpost that was built on thousands of acres of Palestinian land near the settlement of Halamish, while applying consistent violence against the local Palestinian community. In response, Bar-Yosef filed a lawsuit for libel and violation of privacy in the amount of ILS 70,000 against Kerem-Navot. It should be noted that Bar-Yosef has a history of violence against human rights defenders, and in the past, a “Peace Now” staff member filed a police complaint after Bar-Yosef had attacked him. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Carmel Pomerantz, who is representing Kerem-Navot, submitted the Statement of Defense and a hearing has yet to be scheduled.
Sorshan v. Kerem-Navot
On June 24th, 2020, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled that NGO Kerem-Navot, will compensate a right-wing activist after publishing a photo of his illegal house in the settlement of Kfar-Adumim, in 2017. The compensation in the amount of 18,000 ILS was imposed after the court ruled that a Facebook post, comprising a picture of the settler along with a photo his house, an aerial shot of the house, and a text claiming the house to be illegal, constitutes a violation of privacy. In his lawsuit, the right-wing activist, who is a known advocate for the demolition of alleged illegal Bedouin villages, such as Khan al-Ahmar, was seeking the court for a compensation of 120,000 ILS. The verdict sets various highly problematic precedents:
- The judge ruled that the combination of details that were published, among them the illegality of the house, constitutes a violation of the right to privacy. One of the reasons being that it was not public information.
- The judge also ruled that the illegality of the house is not of “significant public interest.”
- Another problematic component of the ruling is the assumption that information that was received following a “Freedom of Information Request”, is not public information, and its publication could therefore give rise to a violation of privacy.
On August 3rd, 2020, HRDF funded lawyer, Adv. Itai Mack, who represents Kerem-Navot, submitted an appeal to the District Court. A hearing in the appeal is scheduled for March 10th, 2021.
HRDF views this case as significant as it could have widespread ramifications on the work of defenders in the oPt. Contrary to the ruling, the illegality of the house is of significant public interest, as the resident of the house is a loud advocate for the destruction of Khan al-Ahmar and consequently for the ethnic cleansing of its residents. HRDF sees great importance in overturning this verdict, and specifically the assertion made regarding publicizing of illegal building, as it has the potential to restrict the very core of public discourse regarding the illegality of settlements and settlers’ accountability and could be used to impede the work of human rights organizations who monitor and oppose to illegal building in the oPt.
Glick v. Emek-Shaveh
In October 2020, right wing activist and serial plaintiff Shai Glick, who is infamous for harassing and persecuting human rights defenders, sued Emek-Shaveh, an NGO working to defend cultural heritage rights, preserving archaeological sites as public assets, and fighting against the use of archaeological sites by Israel as a political tool in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Glick is well connected to Knesset and Government officials and had previously succeeded to shut down culture institutions and events, which he deemed as anti-Israeli. The libel lawsuit, in the sum of ILS 100,000, was filed following a discussion about construction in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, on the Emek-Shaveh Facebook page. Glick, who joined the discussion, was accused of spreading lies by the page administrator and not long after filed the defamation lawsuit. It should be noted that in a previous HRDF case in 2019, Glick was ordered by the court to publish a Facebook post acknowledging that he should not file lawsuits to resolve political arguments and that such arguments should be arbitrated in the public sphere. Nevertheless, Glick keeps harassing Human Rights NGO’s and activists in order to exhaust them with ongoing lawsuits and court proceedings. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Itai Mack, who is representing Emek-Shaveh, submitted the Statement of Defense in November and a hearing has yet to be scheduled.
Eyal v. Kerem Navot
In a series of four publications, Kerem-Navot reported about the work of the Eyal family members, whose father is the Director of the Legal Forum of the Land of Israel, a former candidate to the Knesset by the extreme right-wing party “The New Right”, and a board member of NGO Himnuta (Subsidiary Company of the Jewish National Fund), aimed at expelling Palestinian residents from their homes in Silwan, East Jerusalem. In response to the publication which included a public Facebook photo of the father and his sons who work with him, in November 2020, the Eyal family threatened to sue Kerem-Navot for a violation of copyrights unless the organization will compensate them in the sum of ILS 50,000. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Carmel Pomerantz, is representing Kerem-Navot.
Israel Antiquities Authority v. Emek-Shaveh
In November 2019, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) filed a defamation suit for ILS 134,745.86 against Emek- Shaveh. The lawsuit was filed over a legitimate post in which Emek-Shaveh criticized the IAA for favoring a development project in the area around the archaeological site of Tel Motza, near Jerusalem, where a Neolithic settlement has been uncovered.
This was clearly a SLAPP designed to silence criticism and block public and academic debate over the actions and conduct of a statutory agency, as the lawsuit was filed against a civil society organization whose very function is to alert the public to the actions of state authorities and offer criticism. HRDF-funded lawyer, Adv. Itay Mack represented Emek-Shaveh and the parties were required to negotiate and reached a settlement in which the lawsuit was removed without a costs order.
In January 2020, Emek-Shaveh agreed to delete the original post and replace it with one that is still critical but offers clarifications and reservations regarding statements made about the IAA’s motivations. Although this is an important achievement amid a growing trend of silencing civil society organizations and human rights defenders by Israeli authorities, these attempts to restrict the freedom of expression are likely to continue.
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.