A Brief History of Al-Haq

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Al-Haq was established in 1979 by a group of Palestinian lawyers following an extended debate over how best to address the lack of human rights protection mechanisms in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).  When it was founded, Al-Haq became one of the first human rights organisations established in the Arab world.

Al-Haq’s focus during its first years was largely limited to analysing the legal status of Israel as an Occupying Power in the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, and the structures imposed by its military and governmental authorities in the OPT.  Al-Haq produced some of the first studies applying principles of international humanitarian law to the Israeli occupation.  Al-Haq’s early studies on topics such as administrative detention and Israel’s resort to the British Defense Emergency Regulations were essential in shaping the debate on what laws and regulations are applicable in the OPT.  During this period, Al-Haq established its Legal Unit, which together with the Legal Research Unit developed Al-Haq’s positions and legal arguments.

By 1986 Al-Haq began taking on special projects regarding human rights issues of particular concern such as women’s and labour rights.  During this time, Al-Haq’s work and contributions in the field of human rights began to gain international recognition.

When the first intifada broke out towards the end of 1987, Al-Haq again began expanding its staff to meet the challenge of addressing violations occurring as a result of this uprising. Although Al-Haq established its fieldwork department in 1983, and the information gathered by its fieldworkers became the backbone of its work, it wasn’t until the first intifada erupted and the resultant demands for information by concerned human rights organisations and activists, media, and others at the national and international level, that the fieldwork department grew to include staff throughout the OPT.

Undoubtedly, the first intifada proved to be a peak period for Al-Haq’s work, activities, and accomplishments.  A number of important Al-Haq campaigns were started during this time and Al-Haq continued to grow, expanding to cover the situation in the Gaza Strip.  By the early 1990s, Al-Haq had approximately 40 members on staff.  Al-Haq’s size and its increased professional and human resource capacity helped it to successfully raise awareness of human rights abuses in the OPT and gained Al-Haq international recognition.

 The signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 ushered in a new period in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The changes in the political situation that had resulted in the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) required that Al-Haq reassess its mission.  Despite internal disagreement over how to approach the new situation created by Oslo, Al-Haq began to move forward in work with the PNA, and began, amongst other activities, to monitor the first Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections held in 1996; analyse legislation to ensure that it incorporated human rights standards; and to provide training to PNA law enforcement officials on fundamental human rights principles.

However, some disputes were never resolved, and came to a head during late 1996 and early 1997, requiring Al-Haq’s board to intervene and terminate all staff contracts, thereby leaving the future of the organisation in doubt.

In 1998 Al-Haq began to rebuild.  Al-Haq’s Board of Directors hired new staff and took over many of the organisation’s administrative responsibilities.  The organisation’s focus was also changed, with the board taking the decision that Al-Haq should focus on legal research and little attention on monitoring and documentation activities.  Work following up on draft PLC legislation and Israeli human rights violations moved forward.

Towards the end of 1999 Al-Haq was granted special consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, thereby enabling it to work once more at the international level, and at the UN level in particular.  Financially stable and with its departments rebuilt, by the time the second intifada began in September 2000, Al-Haq was prepared to face the challenges that this uprising, and the increased Israeli violations in response to it. had brought.

In 2002, Israeli occupying forces stepped up the violations of the rights of the Palestinian civilian population by carrying out large scale military incursions into much of the West Bank, including Ramallah. During these incursions, Israel targeted the social, economic, and political infrastructure of the PNA, and raided and destroyed hundreds of governmental and non-governmental offices. On 31 March 2002, Israeli forces broke into Al-Haq’s office and destroyed much of its equipment.

From 2002 onwards, Al-Haq continued to focus its efforts on restructuring its programmatic, financial, and administrative systems, and undertook an extensive revision of its fundamental goals and objectives, and how its various activities relate to the organisation’s vision and mandate. In addition, Al-Haq became increasingly active on lobbying the PLC to include human rights standards in Palestinian legislation, and spearheaded activities by human rights organizations and other civil society organizations to ensure their active participation in the process for the passage of key legislation on issues of concern, and strengthen their capacity to do so.

By the beginning of 2004, the organization completed the process of adjusting its legal status, and was able to register as a non-governmental society under the Palestinian NGO law (No. 1 for the year 2000).

 In 2004, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the establishment of Al-Haq, the organisation launched a campaign against Israeli measures of collective punishment and intimidation in the OPT.  In addition to the campaign, Al-Haq marked its 25th anniversary with Waiting for Justice, a report that provided in-depth legal analysis of violations of human rights by the Israeli authorities, based on first hand information gathered by its fieldworkers.

In August 2005, Al-Haq commissioned an in-depth external evaluation of its organizational structure and policies to identify overall strengths, weaknesses and major challenges facing Al-Haq, and to asses the relevance and quality of its various programs and activities.

Other than considering the organization’s administrative and financial structure, the final evaluation report drew up recommendations for Al-Haq’s future development to improve its effective operation at the programmatic and structural levels and ensure its institutional sustainability. This evaluation facilitated and fed recommendations into the development of a subsequent five year strategic plan (2006-2010) in September 2005, concerning the future direction of Al-Haq’s mandate and work.

Al-Haq Milestones

1979 Al-Haq: Law in the Service of Man is established, and becomes an affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists based in Geneva.
1983 Al-Haq’s first fieldworker is hired.
1986 Legal research focus expands: seminal papers on the issues of administrative detention and the British Defence Regulations are produced, stimulating debate at the local and international levels regarding Israeli policies in the OPT.
1987 The first intifada erupts. Al-Haq expands staff to meet the challenge of addressing increased violations arising from Israeli policies to quell the intifada.
1988 - Al-Haq hosts an international conference on the administration of the OPT.
- The “Enforcement Project”, focusing on calling upon the international community to uphold international law, is launched.
- Al-Haq publishes its first annual report.
- Al-Haq’s lawyers establish the right of Palestinian representatives to be present at autopsies performed on people killed by Israeli occupying forces in unclear circumstances.
- Five of Al-Haq’s fieldworkers are administratively detained.

- An external evaluation of Al-Haq’s structure is carried out. Discussions begin regarding administrative, financial, and managerial policies and structures.

- Al-Haq’s general director resigns. Internal debates and conflicts begin over the successor.

- Al-Haq receives the Carter-Menil Human Rights Prize

1990 Al-Haq’s monitoring and documentation efforts results in opening up new Israeli investigation into the events of the Al-Aqsa massacre.
1991 Al-Haq launches its family unification campaign
1996 Al-Haq monitors the first Palestinian legislative elections to take place following the signing of the Oslo Accords and the establishment of the PNA.
1997 Internal conflicts at Al-Haq snowball, causing the Board of Directors to terminate the contracts of its entire staff.

- The board changes from being a policy-oriented one to an administrative one. Internal structures and mechanisms are frozen.

- A new staff plus one of the previous staff members are hired by Al-Haq, and focus is placed on legal research.

- Al-Haq’s fieldwork and database activities are frozen.

- The organisation moves from project to core funding.

- Work on developing Palestinian legislation and influencing the PLC becomes a major area of focus.


- Al-Haq continues to work on a project basis.

- Emphasis is placed on increasing funds channelled to Al-Haq and diversifying funding sources.Several long-term donor organisations renew their relationships with Al-Haq.

- Al-Haq’s fieldwork and database activities remain frozen.

- Al-Haq is the first Palestinian human rights organisation to be granted Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council.


- Al-Haq’s Monitoring and Documentation Unit is revived.

- The second intifada breaks out.


- Al-Haq’s general director resigns in August, and a new one is appointed before the end of the year.

- Renewed emphasis is placed on Al-Haq’s traditional areas of strength: legal research, fieldwork, and documentation.

- Al-Haq’s Monitoring and Documentation Unit becomes fully operational and its activities serve as Al-Haq’s backbone.

- Work at the beginning of the year is carried out on an ad-hoc basis in response to Israeli violations in the face of the intifada.

- The new general director begins a process of programme planning. Emphasis is put on integrating Al-Haq’s various departments and strengthening cooperation and information sharing between them.


- The intifada continues and Israeli human rights violations increase in scale and intensity with Israel’s incursions into PNA-controlled Palestinian areas.

- Israeli incursions require the development of an emergency plan.

- Al-Haq begins to move away from working on a project basis to working on a core program basis.

- Al-Haq’s board resumes its function as a policy board.

2003 Al-Haq holds the first conference on Palestinian legislation, entitled, “Towards the Establishment of a Palestinian Legislative Strategy.”

- Al-Haq celebrates its 25th anniversary and issues its 2004 annual report “Waiting for Justice.”

- The organisation launches its campaign against collective punishment from Ramallah and at the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India.

- Al-Haq registers as a non-governmental society under the Palestinian NGO Law No. 1 for the year 2000.

- The organisation elects nine new members to the board of directors for the next three years, as well as 28 members to the general assembly.


- Al-Haq jointly participates in monitoring the Palestinian presidential elections with international observers from the International Commission of Jurists, and publishes its main observations in a separate report.

- Al-Haq commissions an in-depth external evaluation of its organisational structure and policies to identify overall strengths, weaknesses, and major challenges facing Al-Haq, and to asses the relevance and quality of its various programs and activities. External evaluators publish a joint evaluation report highlighting their main conclusions and recommendations.

- The organisation begins a process of strategic planning that culminates in Al-Haq’s next five-year strategic plan.

- Al-Haq’s fieldworker in the Bethlehem area is administratively detained. - The organisation convenes an expert seminar titled “From Theory to Practice: Upholding International Humanitarian Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories” in November.

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