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Rights group: Our role is to reduce Palestinian suffering

"We are trying to hold the criminals accountable"

While the crisis in the West Bank is sliding dangerously backwards from the ongoing denial of civil rights, massive land grabs and an upsurge in settler violence, any real hope for change is being undermined.

“It’s no easy task,” admits Shawan Jabarin, general director of Al-Haq, a Palestinian rights organisation that challenges human rights abuses, especially when many have simply stopped discussing solutions.

The harassment and repression Palestinian activists are subjected to, which are perpetrated by illegal settlers and occupation forces then condoned by the ongoing policy of impunity that permeates the military and judicial system, is a blatant bid to stymie their human rights work, and in many cases, is life-threatening.

“Israelis use smear campaigns to silence us, they’re trying to dry us of our resources and interfere with our emails and works,” says Jabarin.

I and my colleagues receive death threats, even the ones based in The Hague, Netherlands, who work with the International Criminal Court, it’s a horrible campaign, but working in human rights is a faith and belief, so giving up in the face of all these difficulties is not a choice.

The smear campaign began after a state-owned media – relaying views of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs – published an article accusing Jabarin of “terrorism”.

This, he explains, is part of Israel’s attempt to derail critical human rights monitors and those who document its violations of international humanitarian laws.

READ: Palestinians in Hebron repeatedly attacked by Israel settlers, soldiers

Israel is working hard to shut down those investigating its crimes – human rights groups and defenders.

The most recent example of this policy is the deportation of Human Rights Watch Director Omar Shakir.

“It’s just another way of silencing the people,” says Jabarin.

“Omar Shakir is an elite example, we raised our voices and spoke against that, it’s clear the Israelis are trying to silence human rights defenders who are taking sides and telling the truth about what’s going on to people around the world.”

The Supreme Court’s reinforcement of the ruling against Shakir, Jabarin adds, means there is no, and never will be, any justice in the judicial system if Israeli law is applied. This, he adds, calls into question its impartiality.

“People have this idea that Israel’s judiciary system and high supreme court is prestigious, but it’s not. There is no hope for a fair hearing. They are complicit in the human rights violations and war crimes taking place,” Jabarin explains.

Experts have urged the Israeli government to withdraw the 2017 amendment to the Entry to Israel Law to allow peaceful critics of its policies to enter the country on the same basis as anyone else. But this has been met with no response from authorities.

READ: Jewish settlers storm Ibrahimi Mosque

Regarding the court’s complicity in the “dispossession of Palestinians”, Israeli NGO B’Tselem documented that there has not been a single case in which the justices granted a petition Palestinians filed against the demolition of their home.

“Israel is the only state in the world that established a special ministry called the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, its main aim is to go after human rights defenders and work against human rights organisations,” said Jabarin.

“Anyone who criticises Israel for its crimes is labelled as anti-Semitic, especially if they support BDS even though that’s part of freedom of expression. They mix everything together, which ultimately, downplays anti-Semitism.”

An activist holds up a placard during a protest supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) [Heri Rakotomalala/Flickr]

False allegations and the smear of anti-Semitism, Jabarin explains, undermines the fight against anti-Semitism. Israel is exploiting the struggle against racism to push the world away from Palestinians, but this is only contributing to the problem.

“Anti-Semitism is an actual issue in Europe and elsewhere, why is Israel mixing it? I also see a big campaign in Britain against the freedom of expression, they are trying to silence everyone who criticises Israel’s illegal actions.”

“It is not anti-Semitic to criticise the policies of the Israeli government,” Jabarin stresses.

The struggle against anti-Semitism is also the struggle for Palestinian freedom, he continues.

READ: The transatlantic anti-Semitism smear campaign

“What’s going on in Palestine is a test,” he adds, “It’s a test for human rights principles, human rights standards and international law.”

Freedom of expression is needed to promote such standards and promote dialogue to find a just solution, Jabarin says. To achieve this, Palestinians must be allowed to get involved and chose their representatives in free and fair general elections, thereby strengthening the Palestinian political system.

Having been instrumental in unveiling corporate-related abuses of human rights and violations of humanitarian law, Al-Haq received the 2019 Human Rights and Business Award late last month at the United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva.

Occupation is not just an ideological system or a regime, Jabarin explains, the occupation has an economical element, which consists of the exploitation of key natural resources by some international communities that strip the Palestinian economy of billions of dollars each year.

“The Israelis are pillaging from the occupied territory, that amounts to annually $8 billion, just imagine if the Palestinians could enjoy their $8 billion, what their situation would be economically.”

“And part of the pillaging crime is also carried out by international companies from abroad, to make a business and profit from the illegal settlements, they are deepening the occupation one way or another.”

READ: 50 Palestinian cars vandalised by Israel settlers

Al-Haq has called on the EU to adopt restrictions on the import of Israeli products originating from illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, and to release a database of businesses with activities or relationships in settlements to provide transparency for states, businesses and the public.

“We will continue in this long road of struggle, our role as a human rights organisation is to shorten the time of suffering as much as we can.”

It is vital, however, that the youth are more engaged in community peacebuilding activities to end the division of Palestinian society, the human rights advocate explains. To this end, Al-Haq supports community initiatives such as workshops and conferences that teach media for the youth to engage in.

“This kind of participation always gives youth and the whole society hope that there is still a bright future coming soon where they can achieve justice, peace and freedom. And to us, as a human rights organisation, this is important.”

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