A UK minister expressed "dismay" Tuesday over Israeli authorities' treatment of Human Rights Watch official Omar Shakir, who is fighting deportation proceedings in the Israeli courts.
Minister for the Middle East, Dr Andrew Murrison, was asked by Labour MP Andy Slaughter "what steps he is taking to ensure that Human Rights Watch and other civil society organisations can conduct humanitarian and advocacy work" in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.
Responding, Murrison said that "we firmly believe that civil society organisations should be able to conduct humanitarian work in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and I saw some of that work in action on the ground during my visit last month".
The minister added that the British government is "aware of reports of pressure exerted against NGOs, particularly those critical of Israel's conduct in the Occupied Palestinian Territories".
"We continue to make it clear that a vibrant civil society is in Israel's interest and encourage the Palestinian Authority to ensure that NGOs can work unimpeded", he stated.
Thanking Murrison for his "refreshing answer", Slaughter pressed the minister further on the specific case of Shakir, "who has been harassed for two and a half years", and singled out by the Israeli government for expulsion.
The Labour MP continued by asking the minister if he is "also concerned by the wider hostile environment for NGOs, which has seen the Daily Mail pay £120,000 in libel damages to Interpal this month for impugning its humanitarian work in Gaza".
Murrison acknowledged the plight of Human Rights Watch regional director Shakir, and said he shared Slaughter's "dismay at what has happened to him".
"I note that his deportation has been stayed and I encourage that stay of deportation to be made permanent", the minister told Parliament, adding that "it is important that Human Rights Watch continues to do the important things that it does in Israel and the OPTs".
Attacks on NGOs, the minister concluded, does "inestimable damage" to the credibility of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.