This came despite heavy pressure from Israel on the French government to pull the award from the two groups which document Israeli war crimes and abuses against Palestinians.
French justice minister Nicole Belloubet did however give in to the pressure and refused to attend the award ceremony in Paris last Monday.
The French Israel lobby group CRIF wrote to Belloubet alleging that the two winners “call for the boycott of Israel,” and claimed that for the French justice ministry to give them the award “even in the absence of the minister, is insulting justice.”
El-Ad said that Israel’s attempt to pressure French officials “illustrates the reality within which we work: propaganda, lies, and threats by a government which believes that silencing and coverup will enable further human rights violations.”
Al-Haq director Shawan Jabarin told The Electronic Intifada that the award is a recognition his group’s work at a time when the organization is being targeted by Israeli smear campaigns.
The 10 December award ceremony coincided with the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
Israel reacted with fury to the announcement that France was giving the prestigious prize to the two groups.
“France gives its highest award to B’Tselem and Al-Haq, organizations that accuse Israel of apartheid, delegitimize us internationally, defend terror and support BDS,” Michael Oren, Israel’s deputy minister for diplomacy, claimed.
BDS stands for boycott, divestment and sanctions – a nonviolent Palestinian-led campaign to hold Israel accountable for violating Palestinian rights, modeled on the successful international solidarity movement that helped end apartheid in South Africa.
Israel’s embassy in France tweeted it was “shocked” at the award and alleged that Al-Haq is linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a political party and resistance organization Israel deems a “terrorist” group.
Israeli culture minister Miri Regev said that B’Tselem and its members should feel “ashamed,” describing the prize as a “badge of shame.”
Israeli deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely called the award “deplorable” and asked the French government to reconsider.
Hotovely claimed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also expressed his opposition in a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Al-Haq director Shawan Jabarin spoke to The Electronic Intifada in The Hague, a few days before traveling to Paris for the award ceremony.
He said that the award came at a moment when Israel is “trying to close the space” for human rights work.
The French recognition means even more to Al-Haq, he said, because it “comes on the same day as the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Jabarin said that the award was “for the victims in Palestine” and was “recognition of their rights.”
But he cautioned that victims need much more than symbolic recognition.
“France needs to act according to its obligations,” he said, referring to international treaties it has signed on human rights.
Time for action
Seven decades since the Nakba – the expulsion of the Palestinians – and after 51 years of military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jabarin said, “nothing has changed, the situation is deteriorating, the occupation is deepening, the suffering is deepening.”
Jabarin’s message to the French government is that “if they really want to have peace in Palestine and elsewhere, they have to act.”
To change the reality, Jabarin said there must be sanctions on Israel, including the banning of trade in settlement products and an arms embargo.
Europeans should not “let the criminals travel to their countries,” Jabarin added.
“Without the criminals paying the price of their crimes, there’s no way to rethink or to change their actions and policies.”
ICC leaning toward Israeli narrative?
Jabarin also expressed disappointment in the International Criminal Court, which since 2015 has been carrying out a “preliminary examination” of alleged Israeli war crimes against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“This is a long time,” Jabarin said.
A preliminary examination is the first step in the court’s process to determine whether to open a formal investigation, which can then lead to charges and trials.
But while a preliminary examination is carried out whenever a referral is made, it is open-ended and can continue for years, at the discretion of the chief prosecutor.
Although Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor, warned Israeli leaders last April that they could face trial for the killings of unarmed Palestinians in the Gaza Strip during the Great March of Return, the court has not launched a formal investigation.
The “victims, the people who are suffering, they can’t wait anymore,” Jabarin said. “This institution has to act according to its mandate and not to deal with things from a political point of view.”
Jabarin called the court’s latest annual progress report disappointing.
The report affirms that “the prosecutor intends to complete the preliminary examination as early as possible,” but provides no firm deadline.
Jabarin described the report as “messy” in its use of legal terminology and concepts. He is worried that the prosecutor has slipped in “the direction of the Israeli narrative.”
But he sees “good signs here and there.”
He hopes the prosecutor will move swiftly to open a formal investigation and “go after the criminals and later on issue arrest warrants.”
“I trust the professionalism and independence of the prosecutor,” Jabarin said. “My message to her is that time flies and suffering continues. It is time for her to proceed.”