Silence or Deporation…Israel’s Message to Human Rights Defenders
In a new and unprecedented move, an Israeli Court on April 16, 2019 has decided to uphold the revocation of the work permit of Human Rights Watch (HRW) Israel and Palestine Director, Omar Shakir, ordering him to leave the country within 14 days based on allegations that he supported a boycott of Israel. The ruling was based on a lawsuit filed by Human Rights Watch in May 2018 to challenge the decision of the Israeli government to revoke the work permit of Omar Shakir, who assumed his role as Director of HRW in Israel and Palestine in October 2016, as well as the law upon which the ruling is based, the anti-boycott law, a 2017 amendment to Israel’s Law of Entry which bars entry or the grant of residence or work permit to foreign nationals who allegedly support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The court found that Shakir has “continuously” been calling for boycotts of Israel, citing his student activism as well as his subsequent work for HRW particularly through his social media posts. The court found as “boycott-promoting activities” HRW’s research on the activities of businesses such as Airbnb, Booking.com, and Fifa, and its recommendations that they cease operating in settlements in the West Bank as their continuation will make them complicit in violating Palestinians’ human rights and constitutes a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law. Moreover, the court held that the anti-boycott law applies equally to boycotts directed at Israel and those directed at the settlements.
This ruling sets a dangerous precedent and is a reflection of the shrinking space for human rights defenders, who work on monitoring and documenting violations of international humanitarian and human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). In recent years, particularly in the aftermath of 2014 Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, Israel has increasingly targeted civil society organizations and human rights defenders, particularly those who have submitted evidence to the ICC, including PCHR, by launching attacks in the form of false accusations, defamation, and smear campaigns intended to undermine their legitimacy, silence their independent voices, and limit their donor funding.
The rights and responsibilities that protect the work of human rights defenders are well-entrenched in international law. Among other primary human rights instruments, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights have proclaimed the inalienable freedoms of opinion and expression, and movement. Those foundational instruments do not only champion all people rights, but also the activities of human rights defenders. Furthermore, the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly in 1998, provides a range of rights and protection for human rights defenders and imposes duties and responsibilities on states to protect them even if they are openly critical of government entities, policies, or actions in the name of promoting and protecting human rights (Article 12).
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) condemns the measures taken against Omar Shakir, whose case represents the latest assault by Israel on human rights defenders. PCHR calls upon the international community to pressure Israel to abide by its obligations under international law by taking measures to repeal the 2017 amendment to Israel’s Law of Entry and to cease hampering the work of human rights defenders and organizations.