Palestinian human rights defenders receive death threats

Shawan Jabarin

Adri Nieuwhof

Earlier this month, Al-Haq, the nearly 40-year-old organization dedicated to defending Palestinian human and legal rights, released alarming news.

One of its employees has received numerous phone calls from an unknown person threatening her and her family members’ lives.

Al-Haq had already been under sustained harassment from anonymous sources attempting to impugn the group’s reputation and credibility. The personal phone calls appeared to be a new and chilling tactic to undermine the organization’s ability to carry out its work.

Al-Haq, founded by a group of Palestinian lawyers, is the oldest Palestinian human rights organization. In her seminal book on Israel’s military regime in the occupied Palestinian territories, sociologist Lisa Hajjar wrote that in 1979 Al-Haq began “the process of forging a legal critique of Israeli military rule.”

Before that, according to Hajjar, there had been little criticism of Israel’s occupation from a legal point of view.

“Framing their criticisms of the occupation in terms of international law was a significant innovation,” Hajjar writes. “It represented the first organized effort to engage law as a form of resistance.”

Throughout its nearly four decades in existence, Al-Haq has expanded to meet the demands of the entrenched occupation.

Now the organization operates with an extensive network of fieldworkers on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza Strip who closely monitor and document Israel’s human rights abuses.

Journalists as well as advocates for Palestinians are dependent on Al-Haq’s prodigious work.

“Red Line”

Recently, Al-Haq focused resources on securing Palestine’s accession to the International Criminal Court and compelling Europe to label Israeli settlement products, achievements which were secured in January and November of 2015.

Shawan Jabarin, Al-Haq’s director, believes that it is these successes, which threaten to hold Israel accountable for its decades of violations of international law, which prompted the current rash of attacks on the organization.

“It means that we crossed the red line,” Jabarin told The Electronic Intifada.

“They want us to continue to speak about human rights, but not to file or prepare any files [to send to the ICC], not to go after their criminals and politicians and generals, not to go after those that are making business from the crimes,” he said.

“Because we did that, they want to undermine our work,” Jabarin added.

In November, Al-Haq joined several other human rights groups, including Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, Aldameer and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, in delivering documentation of alleged crimes committed by the Israeli army during its 2014 assault on Gaza to the ICC prosecutor.

Death threats

On 20 February 2016, the father of Al-Haq’s European representative received a phone call from a man who spoke in Arabic with a strong but unplaceable accent.

According to Jabarin, the man said, “If you want to protect your daughter and you don’t want to lose her, you have to stop her work or she will disappear.”

A week later, the woman herself received a call on her landline from a man who also spoke to her in Arabic with an accent she couldn’t place.

He began the conversation with an endearment, “My love,” and went on to claim that he was speaking on behalf of Palestinian intelligence.

He then said, “You are under threat, you are in danger, and so is your director, Shawan Jabarin.”

The employee replied, “I’m not your love,” and hung up.

She and her father have continued to receive similar phone calls since then.

Officials in the European countries where the phone calls were received are investigating the threats.

Jabarin does not believe that the man was from Palestinian intelligence.

In November, the Palestinian Authority released an official statement condemning the defamatory campaign against Al-Haq.

Instead, he sees the crude but unnerving threats as part of a highly coordinated and well-funded effort to weaken Al-Haq’s work.

“Covert campaign”

Jabarin told The Electronic Intifada that the attacks on Al-Haq began as a covert campaign targeting the organization’s funders.

In October 2015, as Amira Hass reported for the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz, anonymous emails were sent by “Fadi” and “Kathy” to funders and foreign diplomats alleging rampant corruption within the organization.

Although Al-Haq’s most recent audit had found no malfeasance of any kind, the group requested another audit to clear it of any suspicion.

Jabarin says there were many more “Kathys” and “Fadis” – anonymous tipsters alleging misconduct at the well-established organization. Staff at Al-Haq have been contacted by people posing as journalists, asking leading questions in efforts to entrap them.

But Jabarin said the smears and harassment haven’t been successful because Al-Haq is scrupulously transparent. On the contrary, the “allegations” highlighted the organization’s pristine operations.

“I think they touched on the strongest part of Al-Haq – our transparency and professionalism. They failed in the eyes of everyone. Because of that they turned to another [means of attack],” Jabarin added.

Fifteen Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations have signed on to a statement in solidarity with Al-Haq.

The escalating attacks on the organization “are carried out against the backdrop of recurring attempts to undermine and harm the legitimacy and the efforts of all those who are fighting against the occupation,” the human rights groups state.

The Center for Constitutional Rights also condemned the attacks on Al-Haq.

Silencing strategy

Within present-day Israel, politicians have also gone after left-leaning organizations that advocate for Palestinian rights. Israel’s so-called transparency bill – well on its way to becoming law – will require nonprofit organizations that receive more than half of their funding from foreign states to label their official publications accordingly.

And while organizations based in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip are less affected by this particular law, they are nonetheless a target in the government’s attempts to sabotage advocacy for Palestinian rights abroad.

Amuta for NGO Responsibility is the umbrella group that houses NGO Monitor, a right-wing organization founded in 2002 that has led Israel’s offensive on what it calls the “politicization of human rights.”

NGO Monitor was behind a smear campaign against The Electronic Intifada in 2010.

In February, Amuta for NGO Responsibility submitted a statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council proposing that the UN adopt severely restrictive funding guidelines to organizations in present-day Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The group alleges that European governments have been providing hundreds of millions of dollars to “fringe” organizations, asserting that such organizations’ agendas are as “intolerable” as Basque separatists in Spain or abortion activists in Ireland.

Examples of such “fringe” causes include supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, supporting the right of return for Palestinian refugees, supporting a one-state solution or promoting “lawfare” against Israel.

NGO Monitor has defined lawfare as “a strategy of using or misusing law as a substitute for traditional military means to achieve military objectives.”

Amuta for NGO Responsibility identifies Al-Haq, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and Al-Mezan as some of the main “anti-peace” groups that are leading the efforts to put Israeli officials on trial in international courtrooms, specifically referring to the acceptance of Palestine to the International Criminal Court.

“They have one strategy: silence any group working to criticize Israel,” Al-Haq director Jabarin said.


Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.