Shrinking Palestinian Civic Space: IOF Raid and Close UHWC in al-Bireh
Date: 09 June 2021
Time: 12:40 GMT
On Wednesday, 09 June 2021, Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) raided and ransacked the Headquarter of the of the Union of Health Work Committees (UHWC) in Sateh Marhaba neighborhood al-Bireh. They confiscated some its contents and then closed it. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) strongly condemns IOF’s closure of a healthcare organization, stressing it is part of IOF’s systematic policy to polish off the Palestinian civil society and undermine its role in supporting the Palestinian resilience under the occupation.
According to PCHR’s follow-up, at approximately 05:00, IOF backed by military vehicles moved into al-Bireh and stationed in Sateh Marhaba neighborhood. IOF raided UHWC’s headquarter (2 floors in al-Sartawi building). They removed the outside doors and raided and ransacked the headquarter. They confiscated the hard disks from the computers and removed the cupboard doors to confiscate the files. IOF then closed the main door of the UHWC’s office with metal bars and fixed an order issued by the “Israel Defense Forces Commander in Judea and Samaria” to close immediately the office for 6 months. The order also warned the employees from entering their offices otherwise they will be arrested or prosecuted for disobeying the military orders.
Shatha ‘Odeh, UHWC’s Director, commented on the order to close the office and said, “this military order will negatively affect the organization’s work and continuity to provide healthcare services to citizens as the closure of the headquarter will hinder work in the branch offices in terms of administrative and financial matters. Moreover, the closure will restrict our relation with the donors when they know that the headquarter is closed in addition to shaking the confidence of medicine and medical devices’ suppliers in the organization.”
Previously on 08 March 2021, IOF raided and ransacked the same headquarter in addition to confiscating the computers. At the same time, they arrested one of the organization’s employees from his house in Ramallah. At the time, PCHR condemned this incident and called upon the international community to take action in order to protect the Palestinian civil society.
It should be noted that UHWC is a well-respected Palestinian non-governmental organization that was founded in 1985. UHWC is active in the field of health and community development in the Palestinian territory from a human rights perspective; it has branches in most Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
PCHR hereby emphasizes that any assault on the civil society organizations constitutes a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and violates the Israeli occupation authorities’ obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of association in Article 22.
PCHR constantly and periodically monitors IOF’s practices against the civil society in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), that has become a clear policy of successive Israeli governments. These practices included death threats against human rights activists and restricting their movement; raid and closure of civil society organizations; and efforts to incite, defame, delegitimize and defund the civil society organizations. These policies are led by the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy in attempts to undermine the Palestinian civil society and in cooperation with its affiliate right-wing organizations, which work undercover as non-governmental organizations (NGOs); most prominently an Israeli institute known as “NGO Monitor”.
PCHR hereby stresses there is an Israeli systematic policy to stifle the civil society organizations, particularly the human rights organizations and those providing services, in order to obscure the reality, isolate the victim and undermine any efforts to support the Palestinian people’s resilience under the occupation. PCHR also holds the international community responsible to practice pressure on Israel to abide by the international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
PCHR also calls upon the European Union to reactivate the article in the Euro-Israel Association Agreement that provides respect for human rights as a precondition for economic cooperation between the EU states and Israel.