Podcast: Israel wants to criminalize human rights defenders, says head of Palestinian group raided by army

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Palestinians carry the body of 17-year-old Muhammed al-Salaymeh, who was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier on his birthday on 12 December in Hebron, occupied West Bank. In demonstrations that followed the boy’s killing, Israeli soldiers assaulted several journalists. 

(Issam Rimawi / APA images)

“We think that this raid was because the three organizations, especially Addameer, was involved a lot this year in the hunger strikes and the support for Palestinian political prisoners … and our work with PNGO [Palestinian NGO Network] and the [Palestinian] Union of Women’s Committees on the BDS campaign.” - Sahar Francis of Addameer

This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:

Rush transcript - Sahar Francis, Executive Director of Addameer

The Electronic Intifada: Illustrate for us what the office looked like after the Israeli soldiers came in and raided it early Tuesday morning, what was confiscated, and why you think that the Israeli army would want to ransack not only your offices, but those of the Union of Palestinian Womens’ Committees and the Palestinian NGO Network?

Sahar Francis: On early morning Tuesday, we found that the door was broken at the office, and the soldiers obviously entered and they did a lot of mess, like in the files and the papers, they also stole 4 laptops and one hard disk from the office, and one videocamera that we were using for documentation. Of course, in the other organizations like the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, they caused more damages to the office and they took more laptops and they even stole cash from the office.

The first argument by the army — and it wasn’t said directly to the three organizations, but we got this from the news, from the media — they claimed that the three organizations are affiliated with the PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine], which is not true of course, and is ridiculous. … saying that PNGO, the Palestinian Network for non-governmental organizations, includes 132 different organizations, it’s ridiculous to claim that they are affiliated with one Palestinian political party.

We think, actually, that this raid was because the three organizations, especially Addameer, was involved a lot this year in the hunger strikes and the support for Palestinian political prisoners, in all of 2012, and our work with PNGO and the Union of Women’s Committees on the BDS campaign. And the three organizations were sharing, actually last week, in the World Social Forum in Puerto Allegre, in Brazil, and demanding to enhance the BDS campaign and to expand the work of BDS on the international level.

So we felt that all this activism in the last year was the main cause of why the Israeli occupation raided the offices. And of course, you know that the Israelis usually their policy is to affiliate human rights defenders and those who work in human rights with political parties, because according to the military orders, all the political parties are illegal. So by this, they can say that our work is illegal and we are outside the law, and they can claim that we are terrorist groups, and by this they can affect our ability to do fundraising, to get support. And by this they can limit our work, or in the future they can claim that they want to close us, actually.

It was used several times in the past against individuals or against other NGOs. I think it will not stop Addameer, PNGO, and the Union from continuing their activities in highlighting the violations of the occupation and following the war crimes that they do.

EI: Even your researcher, Ayman Nasser, who has been in detention following his abduction by Israeli soldiers in the middle of the night in October, has said that he is still determined to do his work, and that his seizure by Israeli soldiers was definitely of a political nature. It was because of his political activism, it was because of the work that he’s been doing with Addameer. Can you talk a little bit about Ayman, and how Addameer staffers are dealing with these ongoing attacks by the Israeli army?

SF: Yes, of course. Let me start by saying that actually Addameer was facing such attacks since last October of 2011, when they banned one of our lawyers, at the time of the first hunger strike, from visiting the prisoners in the different prisons for 6 months. And then they banned the head of the board of directors from traveling outside and entering to the West Bank.

Later on, in April of this year at the time of the hunger strike, they also banned our other lawyer from visiting the prisons. Which means they were attacking organizations’ work because of the case of the prisoners. It ended with the case of Ayman, who was arrested two months ago more or less, and in the interrogation — of course after using torture and different methods of violations and ill-treatment against Ayman — they charged him in the military court, claiming that he is also a member of the PFLP, and all the activism that he was doing all year to support the prisoners, of course through his work with Addameer, is part of the activism in the PFLP.

And as I said before, this is the way [in which] they want to criminalize human rights defenders activism, whether it’s related to the prisoners, whether it’s related to the wall — like comparing to the case of Bassem al-Tamimi and Abdallah Abu Rahme, for example, the way they charged them and claimed that they were inciting people to demonstrate against the wall and throwing stones, and so on.

It’s a system that works in this way. Currently, Ayman is detained until the end of the trial. We appealed this decision, and there’s no answer — the appeal court was on last Wednesday, but until now we don’t have a decision in the appeal — whether he’ll be released on bail or whether they’ll continue to detain him until the end of the trial.

We think that the evidences against Ayman are weak evidences, actually, and we hope that through the legal procedures and the legal argument in the court, we can prove that all these arguments against Ayman are not true, and actually that the whole system in the military occupation is built on this theory of claiming that human rights defenders are terrorist people, and not doing human rights acts according to international law.

EI: Finally, Sahar, update us on the status of the six Palestinian prisoners on hunger strikes in Israeli jails. This is the work that Addameer is known for, as you said has been targeted for, and also if you could talk about the length of these hunger strikes in prison. It’s almost impossible for the human body to be able to survive more than 70 days on an absolute hunger strike. Have any of these prisoners been force fed? What are their conditions right now?

SF: Actually, there’s five prisoners on hunger strike. Two of them, Ayman Sharawna and Samer Issawi are the longest on hunger strike. Ayman, already, 170 days almost, and Samer, a little bit less. Both were not force fed, but let’s be clear — both of them are getting liquids through their veins, and vitamins in some cases. Two days ago they were transferred to the hospital because both of them are suffering from very bad health conditions.

They developed serious things along the way — Samer is losing his [consciousness] very often, and Ayman’s kidney was infected … and the nerves in the left leg are not properly — and he needs support. When he wants to walk, he can’t walk alone. He needs a wheelchair as well. Samer yesterday was brought to the court hearing in Jerusalem in a wheelchair.

The other three prisoners are still in Meggido prison. The three of them were arrested [recently] on the 22nd of November, after the war on Gaza. The three of them were given administrative detention orders, and this is why they entered into a hunger strike on the 28th of November. So until now, the prison authority did transfer the three of them from a prison to a hospital, to Ramle prison [hospital], where Samer and Ayman are held for now.

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