For the last six months, Nada Kiswanson has received a steady stream of death threats while she has worked with the International Criminal Court as it probes possible war crimes committed by Israel against Palestinians.
The Jordanian-Swedish human rights lawyer with the Palestinian group Al-Haq has reported receiving intimidating phone calls, emails and a bouquet of flowers with an ominous message, threatening the lives of her and her family. She has been also been contacted by someone impersonating a Dutch governmental official.
Al-Haq and Kiswanson believe the intimidation campaign is designed to discourage their advocacy.
This month Kiswanson received a message stating she was “not safe at all and hopefully this would remain.”
“It’s very clear that the reason I’m being threatened is because of the work that I do in Europe and particularly at the International Criminal Court,” she told the Associated Press.
“My channels of communication have been totally compromised,” she told Reuters.
Sophisticated, organized attacks
Kiswanson believes that Israel may be behind the threats because of the sophisticated nature of the harassment campaign and the substance of her work.
For instance, within a day of purchasing an anonymous prepaid cell phone, she received threats in English, Dutch, and “broken Arabic.” Threats have also reached her through her family’s prepaid cell phones. She told Reuters that one of her relatives in Sweden was called and told that Kiswanson would be “eliminated.”
FIDH, the International Federation for Human Rights, describes the campaign as a well-organized, sophisticated pattern of attacks that requires financial backing. One incident involved thousands of flyers bearing Al-Haq’s logo and Kiswanson’s personal details being distributed throughout her neighborhood.
Amnesty International temporarily closed its office in The Hague after an employee’s email account was hacked to send Kiswanson a message. Three other organizations working with the International Criminal Court on Israeli war crimes have also shut down as a precaution, according to the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad.
Al-Haq first revealed its employees had been targeted last March, but has kept the details and scope of the harassment discreet.
Last week the Dutch authorities announced they were investigating the threats made against several human rights organizations.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon dismissed suspicions of his government’s involvement, telling the Associated Press, “We do not react to such preposterous allegations.”
But Dutch authorities have said they are not excluding that possibility. The prosecutor has said they are investigating “various scenarios” but have not come to any conclusions.
The Dutch authorities say they are providing Kiswanson with security.
“We are taking this very seriously,” prosecutors told the Associated Press, saying they’ve requested international assistance.
Herman von Hebel, the registrar of the International Criminal Court, told NRC Handelsblad that the body has never seen such threats to employees of nongovernmental organization working with the court. He said the Dutch authorities were dismissive of the problem until the court intervened.
“We saw immediately: these threats are serious. This should be looked at. And there should be more protection for [nongovernmental organizations] in the Netherlands,” he said.
Von Hebel emphasized that the International Criminal Court relies on groups like Al-Haq to provide documentation which is used by the court to determine whether there is a criminal case.
“It is an attempt to prevent someone to give us information. That is an attack on the very idea of fighting large-scale injustice,” he said.
Another Palestinian group advocating for prosecution at the International Criminal Court has also been threatened.
The Gaza-based Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights stated last week that its staff had been “subjected to a protracted campaign” of harassment and intimidation, including an email sent to a senior staff member threatening him and his family with death, showing “recent pictures of his house [taken] from a close range.”
“These attacks have intensified when our staff members were working on international litigation, including reporting to the International Criminal Court, and international advocacy focusing on accountability for serious violations of international law by the Israeli military,” the group added.
Al-Mezan said they decided to go public once the harassment, which included “suspicious email messages, Facebook posts, [and] telephone calls to staff, donors and friends” escalated to direct death threats.
“This pattern of attacks follows a wave of hostility towards human rights [nongovernmental organizations] involved in advancing accountability in what Israel considers as ‘lawfare.’”
Documenting war crimes
Since January 2015, the ICC has been conducting a preliminary examination of possible war crimes committed by Israel in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014. The investigation will also look into allegations of war crimes committed by Palestinians during the same period.
More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed during Israel’s assault on Gaza that summer.
In November, Al-Haq joined several other human rights groups, including Al-Mezan, Al Dameer and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, in delivering documentation of alleged crimes committed by the Israeli army during the 51-day onslaught to the International Criminal Court prosecutor.
Amnesty International has urged the Netherlands to commit more to protecting Kiswanson and other human rights workers.
“We call upon the Dutch government, at the highest level, to publicly state that these grave threats, which may be international in origin, are unacceptable on Dutch territory,” the group stated.