Two Dutch researchers were detained, subjected to humiliating treatment and abuse and then deported by Israel earlier this month.
Their experience is part of Israel’s policy to isolate Palestinians from the outside world and obstruct the work of human rights defenders.
Israeli security forces took Lydia de Leeuw for questioning immediately after she landed at Ben Gurion airport on 20 July.
Before the interrogation started, she was handed a file with personal details and other information already completed, including a decision by the interior minister to deny her entry.
Handcuffed and abused
Over four hours, de Leeuw was strip searched, deprived of her phone and other property and denied access to the Dutch embassy or legal assistance. She was then deported.
Her colleague Pauline Overeem experienced even more severe treatment.
She was detained for 24 hours during which she was “handcuffed and subjected to verbal abuse, including threats that the Israeli authorities would use force against her,” according to PHROC, a coalition of Palestinian human rights groups.
“They handcuffed me, verbally abused me and left me alone for hours in a room,” Overeem told the Dutch daily De Volkskrant.
Overeem was also denied consular or legal assistance before she was put on a flight back to the Netherlands the next day.De Leeuw and Overeem are senior researchers at SOMO, a Dutch research center on multinationals founded in 1973.
Israeli media reported de Leeuw’s expulsion around the time she was taken in for questioning, mentioning details from her file – indicating that the media worked in coordination with the government.
“This suggests that the decision to deny her entry was made before she even landed in Israel,” according to PHROC. “Therefore, the treatment de Leeuw received at the airport, including her interrogation, was solely inflicted to harass and humiliate her.”
The interior ministry banned de Leeuw’s entry on the recommendation of Gilad Erdan, Israel’s strategic affairs minister who is in charge of the government’s global crackdown on supporters of Palestinian human rights.
The researchers appear to be the first Dutch citizens to be denied entry under Israel’s anti-BDS law, which targets the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights.
SOMO is not on the Israeli government’s blacklist of 20 organizations whose members are banned from entry because they work to end Israel’s human rights abuses.
However, Erdan nonetheless used Israel’s anti-BDS law to ban the two Dutch researchers.
The group stated that it is “not active in the BDS movement” and that “boycott falls outside the scope of SOMO’s work as a research organization.”
Erdan was however bothered by SOMO’s report about Dutch agricultural imports from Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law.
The report served as proof that de Leeuw promotes BDS, Erdan’s ministry told the Dutch newspaper NRC.
De Leeuw told NRC that an Israeli interrogator presented additional “evidence” that she supports BDS in the form of two Facebook posts from 2015 and 2016. At the time, the law to ban to BDS organizations from Israel was not in force.
SOMO sees Israel’s denial of entry to its staff as part of the “ongoing trend toward shrinking space for civil society and the freedom of expression.”
The group says it is “extremely concerned about the criminalization of individuals and organizations that have called upon countries and businesses to promote and respect human rights.”
SOMO is urging the Dutch government to demand an explanation from Israel and condemn the treatment of its researchers.
“I am not active in the [BDS] movement but fully support people who choose to enjoy this right,” de Leeuw told NRC.
The Dutch foreign ministry – a donor to SOMO – told NRC the entry ban was “regrettable,” while recognizing the right of any country to determine its admission policy.
The ministry repeated its position that BDS activism is protected by freedom of expression.
The Dutch government’s surrender to Israel’s “right” to determine who can enter is identical to the apathetic response of the French government after Israel barred the entry of a number of French elected officials last year.
But what these governments are dangerously ignoring is that Israel is not merely barring entry to its “sovereign” territory. It is especially barring entry to the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and isolating millions of Palestinians living there from the outside world.
Israel is obstructing the ability of international organizations to monitor its compliance with its obligations as an occupying power under international law. Therefore by refusing to stand up to Israel’s entry ban, European governments are helping Israel conceal its abuses from the world and giving it cover to commit more violations.
Dutch lawmaker Sadet Karabulut has asked the foreign ministry to look into the case.Karabulut tweeted that it was “worrying that two Dutch human rights activists have been denied access to Israel for political reasons.”
One week earlier, Israel denied Karabulut entry to Gaza.Millions of stateless Palestinian refugees have long been denied entry by Israel to their homeland because they are not Jewish. But Palestinians with citizenship in the US, Canada or EU states often find themselves barred from entering their homeland even for a visit.
Targeting human rights defenders
In recent months, however, Israel has used the anti-BDS legislation to target human rights defenders and activists including Omar Shakir, the director of Human Rights Watch’s Jerusalem office; Ariel Gold, co-director of CODEPINK; Vincent Warren and Katherine Franke, the executive director and a board member of the Center for Constitutional Rights; and Ana Sanchez, a BDS activist from Spain.
Israel also last week barred entry to South African model and celebrity Shashi Naidoo.
Naidoo had provoked the anger of Palestinian rights’ supporters in June when she made derogatory comments about Gaza.
Campaigners capitalized on the incident, inviting Naidoo to travel on a fact-finding trip to see the situation of Palestinians for herself.“Naidoo joins a growing list of South Africans who have been denied passage to Palestine,” the campaign group BDS South Africa, which helped organize her planned trip, stated. But stopping Naidoo at the border has not stopped word of Israel’s abuses reaching even more people.
Since her return, Naidoo has called Gaza “the world’s largest concentration camp” and she is now publicly backing BDS:
- Lydia de Leeuw
- Pauline Overeem
- denial of entry
- anti-BDS laws
- Gilad Erdan
- Israeli settlements
- free speech
- Sadet Karabulut
- Omar Shakir
- Ariel Gold
- Vincent Warren
- Katherine Franke
- Ana Sanchez
- Center for Constitutional Rights
- Human Rights Watch
- Shashi Naidoo
- BDS South Africa
- South Africa