On 30 July 2021, I sent a communication jointly with ten other UN experts to the Government of Israel regarding the arrests, judicial harassment, criminalisation and threats against human rights defenders in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel.
The letter expressed deep concern that the process of forcible evictions in these neighbourhoods highlights Israel’s institutionalised oppression against Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The attempts to silence the dissenting voices who defend the human right to adequate housing in the Occupied Palestine Territory and Israel, as well as the detention and alleged ill-treatment of health workers operating in the West Bank is alarming.
The Israeli government was asked to respond to a number of questions on these matters. To read the full communication, click on the link below.
The case of Mr. Farid Al-Atrash
Mr. Farid Al-Atrash is a human rights defender and lawyer at the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), a prominent national human rights institution in the State of Palestine, which protects, promotes and defends human rights. He is currently the director of the ICHR’s office in the southern West Bank.
On 4 July 2021, at approximately 01:00AM, upon returning from Ramallah to Bethlehem, Mr. Al-Atrash was arrested by Israeli occupation forces at the Israeli Container checkpoint east of Bethlehem city. It has been reported that no warrant was presented upon his arrest.
After his arrest, Mr. Al-Atrash’s health condition deteriorated due to personal health issues and he was transferred to Hadassah Hospital. Later that day, he was sent to Atarot detention centre and then to Ofer prison. The human rights defender was given access to his lawyer and permitted to call family members. One of his family members was allowed to attend his trial.
The first hearing of Mr. Al-Atrash’s trial took place on 7 July 2021, where the authorities cited that the reason for the human rights defender’s arrest was linked to his participation in a peaceful demonstration against the Israeli Occupation and the war on Gaza on 15 June 2021 in an area called Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem. The demonstration began peacefully but later became violent. Several human rights defenders and reports confirm that Mr. Al-Atrash’s participation was peaceful throughout the demonstration. Mr. Al-Atrash was released on bail from Ofer prison on 12 July 2021. The human rights defender had to pay a large bond upon his release and had to pledge that he will not participate in demonstrations. The human rights defender is currently awaiting trial, which has not yet been scheduled.
Mr. Al-Atrash has previously been targeted and detained for his human rights work. On 26 February 2016, he was arrested by Israeli occupation forces and given a two months suspended sentence after he participated in a peaceful protest in Hebron.
The case of Mr. Salah Hammouri
Mr. Salah Hammouri is Palestinian-French human rights defender and lawyer at Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association. The human rights defender was born in Jerusalem and has resided and worked there since 1985. His previous human rights work also includes advocacy for victims of human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian territories.
As cited above, in the previous communication, allegations were raised regarding multiple incidents of arbitrary arrests, judicial harassment and targeting of Mr. Salah Hammouri as a result of his human rights work in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since 2005. Concern was also raised in relation to the Israeli authorities’ intention to withdraw his permanent residency permit in Jerusalem. In September 2020, the former Minister of the Interior justified this move by stating that Mr. Hammouri had “breached allegiance” to Israel. On 13 October 2020 the Minister of the Interior approved a 30-day extension to Mr. Hammouri to challenge the residency revocation through a written submission and later through an oral hearing which took place on 16 December 2021, during which the Minister of the Interior justified his intentions to revoke Mr. Hammouri’s residency by citing previous court cases against the human rights defender.
On 30 June 2021, the Israeli Minister of the Interior Ayelet Shaked announced the adoption of the recommendations to revoke the permanent residency of Mr. Hammouri confirming her intentions to proceed with the process. The revocation of the human rights defender’s residency must be approved by the Israeli Attorney General as well as Israeli Prime Minister of Justice. Mr. Hammouri and his lawyers have not been formally notified of this most recent process against the human rights defender. They learned about it from a Tweet published on the Minister of the Interior’s Twitter page. If implemented, the human rights defender will be permanently expelled from his country of origin. As the residency revocation order has not been officially signed, Mr. Hammouri is waiting for an official notice from the Minister of the Interior.
The cases of Ms. Muna Al-Kurd, Mr. Mohammed Al-Kurd and Mr. Zuhair Al Rajabi
Ms. Muna Al-Kurd and her brother Mr. Mohammed Al-Kurd are human rights defenders, whose family home is one of several homes acquired by Palestinian families in 1956 in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of Jerusalem, and who face imminent risk of being evicted after Israeli settler organisations filed court cases against them in Israeli courts. Both human rights defenders campaign and peacefully protested against the Israeli presence and the issue of forced displacement in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of Jerusalem.
On 6 June 2021, Israeli forces arrested prominent Palestinian woman human rights defender Ms. Al-Kurd during a violent raid on the Al-Kurd family home in the Skeikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem. No warrant was presented for the search or the subsequent arrests. Ms. Al-Kurd’s twin brother and human rights defender Mr. Al-Kurd was summoned by the police and turned himself in hours later. The human rights defenders were released after several hours of interrogation. It has been reported that both defenders were denied access to their lawyer during these interrogations. The siblings are at risk of being charged in relation to their organising of a peaceful demonstration against the forced displacements in their neighbourhood.
We note that Ms. Al-Kurd was one of the speakers at the 30th special session of the Human Rights Council on the grave human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem which took place on 27 May 2021. During this session, Ms. Al-Kurd spoke about the history of Sheikh Jarrah, and raised concerns about the escalation of violence there and the human rights violations being committed against the Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah in the context of the ongoing settlement conflict.
Mr. Zuhair Al Rajabi is a human rights defender and head of the Batn al-Hawa neighbourhood committee in Silwan village, who is also active in promoting and defending the Palestinian minority facing the risk of forced evictions in this area.
Mr. Al-Rajabi has been at the forefront of organising demonstrations to show solidarity and raise awareness about the forcible transfers in the Batan Al-Hawa neighbourhood in Silwan. On 5 June 2021, Mr. Al Rajabi and his son were arrested and remanded in custody for 24 hours after they peacefully resisted the ongoing forced expulsions and displacement in the neighbourhood of Silwan. It has been reported that arrest warrants were presented by the police.
It has been also reported that Mr. Al Rajabi may be charged with “participating in an illegal activity”, “hindering the police” and “public disorder”, however the Public Prosecution is yet to indict him. Mr. Al-Rajabi has been frequently subjected to alleged arbitrary arrests and house raids as a result of his peaceful human rights activities.
The cases of Mr. Tayseer Abu Sharbak, Ms. Juana Ruiz Sánchez and Ms. Shatha Odeh
Ms. Shatha Odeh is a woman human rights defender and director of the Health Work Committee, an organisation that provides health services to Palestinians, in particular women and children, living in remote areas of the West Bank. Ms. Juana Ruiz Sánchez is a woman human rights defender and former project coordinator for the Health Work Committee, and Mr. Tayseer Abu Sharbak is a human rights defender and the organisation’s accountant.
Since March 2021, the Israeli authorities have been targeting the Health Work Committee and its members as part of a wider crackdown on human rights organisations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
On 8 March 2021, Mr. Sharbak was arrested, without a warrant, for his association and work as a human rights defender with the Health Work Committee. After he was arrested, he was taken to Ashkelon detention centre for interrogation. It has been reported that during this time, the human rights defender was subjected to difficult prison conditions, long hours of interrogations and alleged ill-treatment. He is currently detained in Ofer prison awaiting trial and faces the charge of “participating in the activities of an illegal organisation” as well as terrorism related charges. It has been reported that the human rights defender was given access to his own legal counsel but has since been restricted. His family have had limited visiting rights to him due to COVID-19 restrictions. His next hearing will take place on 19 July 2021.
On 13 April 2021, Ms. Sánchez was also detained, without a warrant, as a result of her human rights work with the Health Work Committee. On 14 April 2021, Ms. Sánchez was brought to Hasharon prison in Israel that has no women’s section and spent 12 days in isolation. On 6 May 2021, Ofer Military Public Prosecutor formally accused Ms. Sánchez of the following charges: “being part of the board or directors of an illegal organisation”, “participating in the activities of an illegal organisation”, “receiving and introducing money into the Palestinian territories” and “receiving money for false purpose”.
On 13 May 2021, Ms. Sánchez was transferred to Damoun women’s prison where she remains at the time of writing. Ms. Sánchez was only given access to personal items such as medication and her glasses after 3 weeks in detention. It has also been reported that Ms. Sánchez has had limited access to her family and lawyer, and was kept in solitary confinement for 20 days in Al-Damoun prison. The woman human rights defender was only allowed to see her lawyer for the first time on 2 June, the day the first hearing of her trial was due to take place. However, her lawyer requested that the date be changed in order to give him adequate time to offer legal counsel to his client. Her trial is scheduled to take place on 10 August 2021.
On 7 July 2021, approximately 15 Israeli soldiers raided the home of Ms. Odeh and detained the woman human rights defender without presenting an arrest warrant. The soldiers confiscated Ms. Odeh’s mobile phone and car, assets assigned to her by the Health Work Committee. Upon her arrest, Ms. Odeh was first taken to Ofer prison, where there is no female section, and later transferred to Hasharon prison, where there is no specific female section, where she was kept alone is a small isolated cell. The woman human rights defender has numerous chronic health conditions which requires regular medication and attention. Ms. Odeh’s lawyer informed the family that the Israeli prison authorities denied the woman human rights defenders request to have underclothing and access to her daily medication.
Immediately after her arrest, Ms. Odeh was also denied access to her lawyer and her family until 8 July 2021, when the first hearing was scheduled to take place but was rescheduled until 14 July 2021, so that she could prepare her case with her lawyer. Only two family members were allowed to attend the hearing on 14 July. Furthermore, the hearing was carried out in Hebrew, a language that Ms. Odeh can neither speak nor understand. Ms. Odeh’s lawyer brought clothes to Hasharon prison on 14 July, however the authorities did not give them to Ms. Odeh, claiming they needed to disinfect them first.
On 19 July, the third hearing of Ms. Odeh’s case took place. The Prosecution requested a further 8 days to prepare the list of charges and the military judge extended her detention until 26 July 2021. It was reported that Ms. Odeh’s health continues to deteriorate and she attended the hearing in the same clothes she was arrested in 12 days earlier. During the hearing, Ms. Odeh’s lawyer requested that the judge recommend the Israeli prison authorities to allow her access to the change of clothes provided by her family, and to transfer the woman human rights defender to Damoun Female Prison in Haifa.
On 26 July 2021, the fourth hearing of Ms. Odeh’s case took place, during which the Prosecution presented five charges against her. Ms. Odeh was charged with “holding a position in an unlawful association”, “presence in a public event on 14 May 2019”, “receiving and bringing funds illegally into the area”, “receiving funds and support fraudulently” and “the fraudulent use of documents”. The Prosecution requested the extension of Ms. Odeh’s detention until the end of legal proceedings, the next hearing for which is scheduled for 17 August 2021. During the hearing it was also decided that the list of charges against Ms. Odeh would be translated from Hebrew to Arabic, in preparation for the next hearing.
On 27 July 2021, Mr. Odeh was transferred to Damoun Female Prison. A lawyer who visited Ms. Odeh on 25 July 2021 confirmed to her family that she had received the clothes they had sent.
On 9 June 2021, Israeli soldiers raided the headquarters of the Health Work Committee in Ramallah and ordered the organization to close for at least 6 months on the basis of “security reasons”. Several items were confiscated during the raid, amongst them were computers and confidential documents. The building was also damaged during the raid.
In the communication, we expressed our utmost concern about the targeting of Palestinian human rights defenders outlined in the cases above, which appear to be directly related to their legitimate and peaceful work defending the human rights of their communities, including the human right to adequate housing of Palestinians. Concern was expressed that the alleged arbitrary arrests of Palestinian human rights defenders and raids conducted on their homes without a warrant form part of a wider crackdown by Israeli authorities against human rights defenders in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and is being used as a tool by the Israeli authorities to hinder their peaceful human rights work in the country.
The attempts to revoke the permanent residency of Mr. Hammouri are concerning, and appear to form part of a wider strategy of targeting, arrests, and judicial harassment against human rights defenders by the Israeli authorities in response to the forcibly transfer of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhoods of Jerusalem. In particular, we are concerned about the arrest and interrogation against Ms. Al-Kurd, Mr. Al-Kurd and Mr. Al Rajabi who are at the forefront of defending their communities against forced displacement by the Israeli authorities. We noted with concern that the arrest of Ms. Al-Kurd came shortly after her participation in the 30th special session of the Human Rights Council. We are also concerned that the process of forcible evictions in these neighbourhoods highlights Israel’s institutionalised oppression against Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The attempts to silence the dissenting voices who speak out against human rights violations in the Occupied Palestine Territory and Israel, in particular against forced displacement, is extremely concerning and will have a negative effect on the ability of human rights defenders in the area to carry out their work, for fear of retaliation.
Finally, we are very concerned at the targeting of Palestinian human rights defenders and members of the Health Work Committee, who appear to have been detained as a result of their human rights work in the West Bank. We are also concerned that Ms. Sánchez had been detained and Ms. Odeh is currently detained in Hasharon prison, located in Israel, which is a direct breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transferring of prisoners outside their territory. The alleged ill-treatment of Ms. Sánchez, Mr. Sharbak and Ms. Odeh, and the alleged restrictions placed on their access to lawyers and family is concerning. The deteriorating health condition of Ms. Odeh is also of grave concern, especially in light of allegations of her access to vital medical care and unsanitary prison conditions. In particular, we are concerned about the potential exposure of the women human rights defenders to sexual assault and abuse in their current and previous places of detention and the deprivation of their right to health, including their sexual and reproductive health rights.