In a statement published in an Israeli newspaper, the Israeli Minister for Foreign Affairs, Silvan Shalom, alleged that Palestinian NGOs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip harbor terrorists, stating that “Palestinians who have carried out attacks hide in human rights offices” and that “most human rights offices in the West Bank and Gaza Strip provide shelter for Palestinian terrorists” (Yediot Ahronot, 21 May 2003).
PCHR believes that these comments represent a threat to the work of Palestinian human rights NGOs and contends that the comments are particularly disturbing coming from a senior politician, indicating that they may reflect the official government position.
PCHR contends that Foreign Minister Shalom’s comments pose a threat to Palestinian NGOs, as it is common practice for Israeli authorities to brand a group as illegal and supporters of terrorism before launching an attack against them. This declaration puts human rights activists in the category of combatants, therefore raising the possibility that individuals, offices and institutions may become targets of military action.
These comments can be interpreted as a threat aimed at intimidating, frightening and deterring Palestinian human rights NGOs from carrying out their work as human rights monitors in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. However, Palestinian human rights NGOs continue their efforts to monitor, document, publish and disseminate the crimes that are perpetrated by Israeli occupying forces. Palestinian human rights NGOs are also involved in worldwide campaigns to raise awareness of the Palestinian cause and to pursue war criminals under the laws of universal jurisdiction.
It is also important to consider that Palestinian human rights NGOs are the products of Palestinian suffering and many human rights activists are veterans of Israeli aggression, having been pursued and imprisoned in the past. Despite this, Palestinian human rights organizations have remained resilient and continue to tackle human rights violations and strive to uphold international law.
These baseless and defamatory comments coincide with an increase in Israeli actions against internationals and come in the context of an escalation in attacks on human rights monitors in the region. Since February of this year, several members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) have been detained, deported, harassed, injured and even killed while working as human rights monitors in the Occupied Palestinian Territories: American citizen Rachel Corrie was killed when an Israeli bulldozer ran her over; Brian Avery, also an American, was severely wounded when he was shot in the face; and British citizen Thomas Hurndall is listed as clinically dead, after being shot by Israeli forces, while attempting to evacuate a group of children from the scene of Israeli military activity.
Israeli authorities have also continued to deprive members of the international media freedom of movement within the OPT and several journalists reporting on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have been attacked, including British cameraman James Miller who was killed while filming a documentary about the plight of Palestinian children.
PCHR is concerned that the increase in restrictions on the Gaza Strip as well as Shalom’s comments could be an indication of plans for an even greater escalation of military activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and in particular in the Gaza Strip. PCHR calls upon the international community to address these issues and to intervene to protect Palestinian human rights NGOs from any action that may stem from Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom’s statement.