There is no time to waste, the International Community must defend civic space and provide preventative diplomatic/international protection to Palestinian CSOs in occupied East Jerusalem
On Wednesday, July 22nd, Israeli police, security and tax department stormed both Yabous Cultural Center and Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, terrorizing staff, conducting a search for several hours and confiscation of files, financial records and digital equipment. The Israeli police and occupying forces also raided the home of both Mr. Suhail Khoury and Mrs. Rania Elias detaining them for around 12 hours before they were released with bail late at night. In addition to that, the police raided the home of Mr. Daoud Al-Goul the former manager of Shafaq Consortium and detained him.
This latest wave of attacks can only be understood in the broader context of existential threats and danger in which Civil Society Organizations in Jerusalem have to live, and that the international community must fight against more firmly.
In occupied East Jerusalem (EJ), Palestinians face an increased systematic attack on their institutions by Israeli authorities since Israel’s military conquest on the city in 1967. Israel has set up a regime of annexation that pursues the permanent conquest of occupied Palestinian territory and deprives Palestinians of the right to self determination; Israel’s regime in the occupied East Jerusalem is inherently unlawful and has been declared null and void by the UN Security Council and General Assembly on numerous occasions. Yet, Israeli forces in EJ have operated in complete impunity.
Israeli policies and practices take the following forms: i) taking control of East Jerusalem’s public institutions and changing their status and character from Arab-Palestinian to Jewish-Israeli; ii) exploiting emergency and counter-terrorism laws to sweepingly outlaw or criminalize Palestinian political and non-violent activists organizations, punish their members and forcibly close their institutions iii) banning the institutions of the Palestinian Authority (PA) from the city, iv) enforcing restrictions and punitive measures against Palestinian institutions. At least 42 Palestinian institutions have been forcibly removed from occupied East Jerusalem since the year 2000 alone.
In April 2018, PNGO published a study “Attacks on Palestinian civil society organizations in occupied East Jerusalem: A Matter of illegal annexation and of repression of the right to self-determination. The findings of the study showed then and continue to confirm that Palestinian CSOs working in Jerusalem face the following existential challenges: 1) Restrictive Israeli policies pertaining to the registration and lawful presence (in terms of Israeli law) of Palestinian CSOs in EJ. 2) Israeli banks seeking to close Palestinian CSO accounts. 3) The ongoing defamation campaigns of Israeli-lobby groups targeting Palestinian CSOs, inside and abroad, seeking to delegitimize completely the essential work of CSOs. 4) Restriction of movement due to ‘Jerusalem closure’ policy.5) Physical attacks by Israeli authorities on CSOs (office, raids confiscation/ destruction of equipment and materials) 6) Intimidation and fear of Israeli reprisals among Palestinian society in Jerusalem, as well as Israeli’s restrictive and arbitrary visa policies targeting foreign staff and visitors. 7) Intimidating and punitive measures against staff and members of CSOs, including summon for questioning, as well as arrest, detention and punitive measures.
Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network and Palestinian Human Rights Council call upon the international community to:
· Recognize Palestinian CSOs working in occupied East Jerusalem, including staff and members, as human rights defenders within the meaning of the UN Declaration and the EU Guidelines.
· Provide preventive diplomatic/international protection, including protective sponsorship and presence, to Palestinian CSO offices and activities in occupied East Jerusalem in order to prevent arbitrary physical attacks, forcible transfer, or arrests of staff by Israeli authorities.
· Government must publicly condemn the campaign of defamation and de-legitimization led by Israel’s right wing government and lobby groups, such as NGO Monitor. Also condemn the abuse of sweeping Israeli emergency and counter-terrorism laws and the legitimization of civil laws for purpose of intimidating, restricting, criminalizing and penalizing the essential work of Palestinian CSOs in occupied EJ.
· Take hard measures to urge Israel to repeal all such arbitrary laws, policies and practices in bilateral meetings and international fora as recommended, for example, by the EU Guidelines on the Freedom of Expression, including in meetings under the EU Association Agreement and Neighborhood Policy with Israel, and the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council.