The Israeli occupation authorities have denied a work permit for the director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Israel and Palestinian territories, they said on Friday. Israel accused the organisation of "engaging in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda, while falsely raising the banner of 'human rights'."
In response, HRW said that this comes as the Israelis seek to limit the space for local and international human rights groups to operate in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. "This decision and the spurious rationale should worry anyone concerned about Israel's commitment to basic democratic values," commented Deputy Executive Director of Programmes at HRW, Lain Levine. "It is disappointing that the Israeli government seems unable or unwilling to distinguish between justified criticisms of its actions and hostile political propaganda."
The denial of the work permit was a surprise. "Last year, the [Israeli] foreign ministry asked Human Rights Watch to intervene in a case involving Israeli victims of human rights abuses. The decision marks an ominous turn after nearly three decades during which Human Rights Watch staff have had regular access without impediments to Israel and the West Bank."
HRW pointed out that the Israeli occupation authorities have been refusing its staff entry to the Gaza Strip since 2010, apart for one visit in 2016.
Noting that the Israeli Knesset (parliament) passed a law last July that targeted human rights groups and imposed onerous reporting requirements which burden their advocacy, the organisation suggested that the permit denial comes amid increasing pressure on human rights defenders operating in Israel and Palestine. "Israeli officials have directly accused Israeli advocacy groups of 'slander' and discrediting the state or army." Moreover, Palestinian rights defenders have received anonymous death threats and have been subject to travel restrictions and even arrests and criminal charges.
"Human Rights Watch is an independent, international, nongovernmental organisation," the group stressed. "It promotes respect for human rights and international law, and monitors rights violations in more than 90 countries across the world." It also has staff who work legally in its registered offices in some 24 countries around the world, including Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia.
"While the Israeli government is hardly the only one to disagree with our well-researched findings," concluded Levine, "its efforts to stifle the messenger signal that it has no appetite for serious scrutiny of its human rights record."