The Palestinian rights organization Al-Haq, together with the Israeli rights organization B’Tselem, will receive the prestigious Dutch Geuzenpenning award for human rights defenders on 13 March 2009. Al-Haq is an independent Palestinian non-governmental human rights organization based in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah. The organization was established in 1979 to protect and promote human rights and the rule of law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The award is an initiative of the Foundation Geuzen Resistance 1940-1945, named after the De Geuzen resistance group active during World War II around Vlaardingen, Maassluis and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The resistance group, in turn, took its name from the Geuzen, a collection of armed groups that fought the Spanish occupation of the Low Countries in the 16th century, during the Dutch Revolt. German forces executed 15 De Geuzen members in the dunes of the Waalsdorpervlakte near The Hague on 13 March 1941. The Waaldsorpervlakte has become one of the most important war memorials in the Netherlands. After the war, surviving members of the group started the foundation to honor the memory of their fallen comrades, and the Geuzen ideals of promoting and maintaining democracy in the Netherlands and heightening global awareness of all forms of dictatorship, discrimination and racism. Shawan Jabarin, General Director of Al-Haq, told The Electronic Intifada, “We are proud to receive The Geuzenpenning, because of the history that is linked to it. The award is an acknowledgement of our resistance to the [Israeli] occupation.”
According to Jabarin, Al-Haq “works mainly in the area of human rights. To be able to advocate for the respect for human rights, we collect first-hand data on violations of human rights in Gaza and the West Bank, regardless of who is the perpetrator. We look into violations committed by Israel, the occupying power, and by its soldiers. We also research human rights violations committed by the Palestinian Authority. The data we collect are also be used to hold violators accountable. Without bringing crimes to court, the violations will continue. Impunity will lead to repetition. We not only want to hold individual violators of human rights accountable, but also companies that are involved in criminal activities. Last year we started, in cooperation with the people of Bilin village, legal proceedings in Quebec against Green Park International Inc. and Green Mount International Inc. These two Canadian corporations have been involved in constructing, marketing and selling residential units in the illegal Jewish Israeli settlement of Modi’in Illit in the occupied West Bank, on the unlawfully appropriated land of the village of Bilin. We are currently preparing more legal action in several countries in Europe.”
Asked about what Europeans can do to support the work of Al-Haq, besides allocating awards, Jabarin expressed his appreciation for the award, “which is of a private foundation, not from a government.” Regarding the role of Europe, and European governments, Jabarin said, “Until now they failed to meet their obligations under international law. They speak about international law, but Europe has not shown even a minimum respect for it. In this way they cannot help to achieve peace or justice in our region. Europe withdraws from its responsibilities and they will burn their fingers, not only here in Palestine and Israel, but also in Europe. For years we have tried to influence officials from governments, but we came to the conclusion that we will be more successful in working with civil society in Europe. We have strengthened our relations with many European organizations and human rights coalitions. We filed in cooperation [with civil society actors] a claim in the UK’s high court.”
On 24 February Al-Haq, in cooperation with solicitor Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, challenged the UK government over its failure to fulfill its obligations under international law with respect to Israel’s activities in the OPT. In a press release, Al-Haq stated “Israel’s violations of international law, and the obligations they entail for third [party] states, existed well before Israel’s most recent attacks on the Gaza Strip but the widespread civilian death and destruction caused during ‘Operation Cast Lead’ [in the Gaza Strip] and the distinct failure on the part of the international community to take any concrete action to stop Israel’s violations have forced Al-Haq to challenge third [party] states directly, starting with the UK, in order to seek an end to the business-as-usual approach in relations with Israel.”
For many years Jabarin has been involved in defending human rights, and traveled for his work to international meetings. Since his promotion to the position of Al-Haq General Director in 2006, the Israeli military authorities repeatedly denied him permission to leave the West Bank to attend human rights conferences in various countries. Al-Haq has asked Dutch diplomatic authorities to intervene to overcome Jabarin’s travel ban, so he could accept the Geuzenpenning at the ceremony in Vlaardingen. Jabarin said, “just before you phoned me, I learned that Israel has refused the request of the Dutch authorities.”
Adri Nieuwhof is consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.