Israel temporarily lifts travel ban on BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti

Omar Barghouti (Intal/Flickr)

The Israeli government has temporarily lifted the travel ban imposed on Omar Barghouti, the Palestinian human rights defender who cofounded the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

In April, Israel 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.”

The BNC announced Tuesday that on 19 July, the Israeli district court in Haifa had ordered the government to re-examine its decision to deny Barghouti’s permit. In the meantime, Barghouti will be allowed to leave and re-enter the country over the next two months.

“Given the failure of Israel’s Ministry of Interior to take the necessary legal steps that are required prior to deciding not to renew Barghouti’s travel document, Barghouti’s lawyer, Gila Barzili proposed in court that the ministry should grant Barghouti at least a temporary renewal of his travel document until it has fulfilled these requirements,” the BNC stated in a press release.

The Israeli state attorney accepted the proposal.

The ministry’s refusal to renew his permit is ostensibly based on the claim that Barghouti’s “center of life is not in Israel” – a standard that under Israel’s discriminatory legal system is never applied to Jews no matter where they come from in the world or how much they travel overseas.

Barghouti has lived with his family in Akka, in the north of present-day Israel, since 1994. He has Israeli permanent residency and requires an Israeli travel document to be able to travel in and out of territory under Israeli control.

The BNC noted in its press release that Barghouti’s entire residency period has been “in accordance with the law and without having any violations on his record.”

“We should not relax”

“This temporary lifting of Israel’s travel ban on Omar Barghouti clearly reflects the impact of the worldwide condemnation of the ban and of Israel’s all-out legal, intelligence and propaganda war on the BDS movement,” the BNC’s Mahmoud Nawajaa said in reaction to the Haifa court’s decision.

“But we should not relax,” Nawajaa added. “This is only a procedural delay in Israel’s still-ongoing process of punishing Omar for his defense of Palestinian human rights.”

Nawajaa said the BNC is urging “people of conscience around the world to intensify their efforts to counter Israel’s repressive war on the BDS movement, as only effective and sustained pressure can have a significant impact.”

The effective travel ban on Barghouti followed threats made against him and other Palestinian human rights defenders by top Israeli government ministers in March, including intelligence minister Yisrael Katz who called for “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.”

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.”

Peace award

Just days after the Haifa court’s decision, it was announced that Barghouti, along with US civil rights activist and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, had been awarded the Gandhi Peace Award.

The prize has been given annually since 1960 by the Connecticut-based organization Promoting Enduring Peace.

Past recipients have included Eleanor Roosevelt, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, child rights campaigner Marian Wright Edelman and US labor leader Cesar Chavez.

Every recipient has attended the award ceremony in person, except for Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964.

The Gandhi Peace Award comes with a cash prize and a medallion made of copper recycled from disarmed nuclear missile systems.

“The ceremony to honor Nader and Barghouti will take place in April of 2017,” Promoting Enduring Peace has stated. “It is being announced early due to the need for a campaign to pressure the Israeli government to allow Barghouti to travel to the United States.”

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There's something both archaic and chilling in the phrase I've just cited. How does one prove where the center of his or her life resides? Are we talking about physical location, or moral concerns, or what exactly? The spurious formulation thrives on its own imprecision. It can be applied by the state as needed, but in the end, as Ali indicates, its basic meaning is that he's not Jewish. If he were, he could live in Patagonia and still be awarded every right denied Omar Barghouti and all other Palestinians.

Unfortunately for the co-founder of the BDS movement, the center of his life does indeed involve Israel, in a more profound way than will ever apply to his oppressors.

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