Rights group condemns attacks on Gaza civil society

The following press release was issued by Al-Haq on 26 May 2010:

In a joint press conference held with the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organization Network (PNGO) on 24 May 2010, Al-Haq’s director, Shawan Jabarin condemned two recent attacks on civil society organizations in Gaza. The incidents constitute serious violations of Palestinians’ human rights and highlight an alarming trend with respect to the growing atmosphere of intolerance and incitement perpetuated by extremist religious groups in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The effects of this trend are of particular concern in the Gaza Strip, as they inflame an already tense situation arising from the continuing blockade and isolation of the people of Gaza.

On 23 May 2010, a group of masked and armed men set fire to a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) recreational summer camp for children. It is not clear whether any group has taken responsibility for the attack, but on 19 May 2010, a group called “Homeland Freemen” issued a threatening statement claiming that the camp did not conform with the cultural norms of Gazan society, especially with regards to its activities for girls.

On 24 May 2010, the Internal Security Agency of the de facto Hamas government prevented the Palestinian Independent Commission on Human Rights (PICHR) from holding a workshop in a Gaza hotel where it intended to present its annual human rights report. The pretext for banning the workshop was that PICHR did not have a permit to hold the event. Later that day, the Ministry of Interior’s police force barred a sit-in organized by PNGO and other human rights organizations that had been planned to demonstrate support for UNRWA after the attack on the organization’s summer camp.

Al-Haq strongly condemns the conduct of the Hamas authorities in preventing PICHR from presenting its annual human rights report in a private venue, and from barring a nonviolent protest organized to demonstrate civil society’s condemnation of the attack on the UNRWA camp. Targeting civil society organizations in this manner places unacceptable constraints on their freedom to conduct their crucial work, and is in violation of the basic right of Palestinians to peaceful assembly.

Al-Haq also condemns the reprehensible attack on the UNRWA summer camp. This attack, committed by a group of armed men who succeeded in entering the UNRWA camp without alerting the attention of the Hamas authorities, constitutes a violation of the basic rights of children to develop and engage in recreational activities. Given the devastating conditions within which the children of Gaza must live due to the policies of the Occupying Power, it is incumbent that the few opportunities they have to socialize and play freely are respected and supported by all parties. If impunity is accorded to the perpetrators of this attack it is possible such actions will recur. Al-Haq’s concern is that by threatening and violating Palestinian rights to equality, privacy and education, violent groups will force families to restrict the freedoms and movement of their children, and especially that of girls.

Both incidents pose serious threats to the human rights of Palestinians in Gaza. These incidents occur within a context of increasing religious extremism that promotes violence and hostility against international and civil society organizations accused of threatening socio-religious values. Although religious and cultural freedoms are protected under human rights law, incitement to violence or hostility is excluded from the scope of these rights. The growing atmosphere of intolerance and incitement to violence is a serious concern in Gaza, where the severe conditions created by the blockade exacerbate the volatility of the situation. The issue of incitement must be addressed by the Hamas authorities in Gaza, as well as the Palestinian Authority, to ensure such actions are not tolerated anywhere in the OPT.

In a letter addressed to Ismail Haniyah, the Prime Minister of the de facto government, Al-Haq has requested that the Hamas authorities:

  • desist from obstructing the activities of civil society organizations;
  • take serious measures to conduct a thorough investigation into the attack on the UNRWA children’s summer camp, which would include a serious probe of the group “Homeland Freemen,” and to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice; and
  • uphold their responsibility to protect civil society organizations, NGOs and human rights and international organizations that work tenaciously to protect people’s rights in Gaza.