ProtectDefenders.eu are alarmed by the numerous reports received in recent weeks of attacks, threats and harassment of human rights defenders in Israel and the Palestinian territories:
• On 30 July 2020, several Israeli soldiers stormed the house of human rights defender Mahmoud Nawajaa and arrested him, subsequently releasing him on 17 August. Mahmoud Nawajaa is a human rights defender, who advocates for the rights of Palestinian people under the Israeli occupation. He is the general coordinator of the Palestinian National Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Committee (BDS). The BDS Movement is an international movement founded in 2005, which has pioneered a non-violent mobilisaton against Israel’s occupation of Palestine through exerting social, economic and political pressure on the State. BDS seeks to hold Israel accountable for human rights abuses and other violations of international law, defends the ‘right of return’ of Palestinian refugees to family properties lost in the 1948 war and engages in advocacy and non-violent campaigning for Palestinian rights.
• On 28 July, Rania Elias, Director of the Yabous Cultural Centre in Jerusalem, was summoned and interrogated by police following her participation in a peaceful demonstration against the raid of the Centre, as well as on the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, on 22 July. On 22 July 2020 at approximately 9 am, the Israeli Police raided the home of Rania Elias and Suhail Khoury in Jerusalem. Rania Elias is the Director of the Yabous Cultural Centre, her husband Suhail Khoury is the Director of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Jerusalem. The police asked the couple to keep their children in one room whilst they searched the house and confiscated their mobile phones, laptops, and some of their papers and documents. Following this, the police brought Rania Elias to the Cultural Centre, where they proceeded to confiscate the laptops there too, as well as other documents from the centre. Currently Rania Elias and Suhail Khoury are facing charges of ‘money laundering’, ‘tax evasion’ and ‘supporting terrorist activities’.
• On 22 July, the Ramallah Magistrate Court extended the detention of the anti-corruption human rights defenders Jihad Abdo and Fayez Swaity for an additional 15 days. The two defenders were initially detained on 19 July 2020 whilst peacefully protesting, and have been charged with ‘illegal gathering’ and ‘violating the emergency laws’. Jihad Abdo is a co-founder of the The Coalition of Civilized Demand for Fair Palestinian Telecom Sector (Bekfi ya shrikat alitisalat – Enough Communication Companies), a movement which was established to demand fair competition in the Telecom sector in Palestine and to defend the economic rights of Palestinians. He regularly participates in organising peaceful demonstrations calling for an end to corruption within the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian telecom sector. Fayez Swaity is the founder and director of the Palestinian association ‘Together Against Corruption’. His activities focus on investigating and documenting corruption in the Palestinian Authority.
Continuing tension increases the dangers of journalism in Palestine (ranked 137 in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index). In the Gaza Strip, two Palestinian journalists were killed by Israeli snipers and dozens have been wounded while covering the “March of Return” protests since May 2018. In the West Bank, the use of live rounds by the Israel Defence Forces to disperse protests exposes reporters to the possibility of serious injury. The Israeli media are free to be outspoken, which is rare in the Middle East, and Israel is ranked 88 in the Freedom Index. Nonetheless, despite the existence of independent media, journalists are exposed to open hostility from members of the government. Smear campaigns have been waged against media outlets and journalists by politicians with the help of their party and supporters, exposing the targets to harassment and anonymous messages and forcing them to seek personal protection. Journalists have also been subjected to “military censorship,” orders banning coverage of certain subjects and private-sector lawsuits designed to gag them.
Because of self-censorship, there is little or no coverage of the reality of life in the Palestinian territories. Foreign freelancers often have difficulties in obtaining or renewing accreditation. The Israel Defence Forces often violate the rights of Palestinian journalists, especially when they are covering demonstrations or clashes in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.