Israel has imposed an effective travel ban on Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the Palestinian movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).
This follows explicit threats made against him by Israeli government ministers.
Israel has officially refused to renew Barghouti’s travel document, a move that the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) said “amounts to a travel ban and is an escalation of its attacks on Palestinian human rights defenders who nonviolently advocate for Palestinian rights under international law.”
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, told The Electronic Intifada that “Israel’s refusal to renew Barghouti’s travel document appears to be an effort to punish him for exercising his right to engage in peaceful, political activism, using its arsenal of bureaucratic control over Palestinian lives.”
“Sadly, Israel has used this sort of control to arbitrarily ban many Palestinians from traveling, as well as to ban international human rights monitors, journalists and activists from entering Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories,” Whitson added.
In a press release on Tuesday, the BNC said that Barghouti, who lives in Akka, in the north of present-day Israel, “has Israeli permanent residency and requires an Israeli travel document to be able to travel in and out of Palestine/Israel.”
The BNC warned that “Israel’s decision not to grant a renewal of the travel document on baseless bureaucratic pretenses is being viewed by human rights experts as the first step towards revoking Barghouti’s permanent residency.”
Barghouti’s immediate reaction was: “I am unnerved but certainly undeterred by these threats. Nothing will stop me from struggling for my people’s freedom, justice and peace.”
“Having failed to stop the growth of BDS in the mainstream, Israel is now launching a desperate and dangerous global war of repression on the movement,” BNC general coordinator Mahmoud Nawajaa said.
“After losing many battles for the hearts and minds at the grassroots level, Israel and its well-oiled lobby groups are pressuring Western states to implement patently anti-democratic measures that threaten civil liberties at large,” Nawajaa added, in reference to a raft of anti-BDS legislation in the US and several European states.
“By banning our colleague Omar Barghouti from travelling and threatening him with physical violence, Israel is showing the lengths it will go to in order to stop the spread of the nonviolent BDS movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality,” Nawajaa said.
The Israeli move follows threats made against Barghouti and other Palestinian human rights defenders by top Israeli government ministers in March.
Interior minister Aryeh Deri had explicitly threatened to revoke Barghouti’s residency on the grounds that “he is using his resident status to travel all over the world in order to operate against Israel in the most serious manner.”
Israeli intelligence minister Yisrael Katz called for a campaign of “targeted civil eliminations” of BDS leaders with the help of Israeli intelligence. The Hebrew term Katz used was similar to the Israeli term for “targeted assassinations.”
And Gilad Erdan, the Israeli minister in charge of combating BDS, also said that activists including Barghouti should “pay the price” for their work.
At the time, Amnesty International strongly condemned these threats, warning that “an escalation of acts of intimidation by the government and attacks and threats by settlers and other non-state actors have created an increasingly dangerous environment” for human rights defenders in Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The group expressed particular concern for the “safety and liberty of Palestinian human rights defender Omar Barghouti, and other boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activists, following calls alluding to threats, including of physical harm and deprivation of basic rights, made by Israeli ministers.”
EU representatives, by contrast, refused to condemn the Israeli threats, sending Israel a tacit signal that it could proceed with its repression campaign.