Al-Marsad – Arab Human Rights Centre in Golan Heights (“Al-Marsad”), in coalition with 15 organizations, including human rights groups, an academic institution, and a trade union, has submitted an emergency appeal to various United Nations experts demanding they intervene immediately to protect human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan. The appeal follows the filing of a legal complaint by Energix Renewable Energies (“Energix”) against Al-Marsad. This lawsuit marks the first time an Israeli entity has sought to suppress the speech and actions of a human rights organization under Israel’s anti-boycott law, setting an extraordinarily dangerous precedent. It follows a series of Israeli government actions calculated to limit human rights defenders’ ability to operate in areas under its control.
In September 2018, Al-Marsad began investigating Energix’s development of an enormous energy project that would occupy almost a quarter of the agricultural land on the less than five percent of the occupied Golan that is still controlled by native Syrians. The investigation revealed that Energix’s project violates the indigenous Syrian community’s right to self-determination as recognized by United Nations resolutions and treaties that Israel is party to. This includes the right of the Syrian community to exercise sovereignty over its natural resources. During its investigation, members of the Syrian community sought Al-Marsad’s help in opposing the project. In response, Al-Marsad facilitated a series of informational meetings for the community, which ultimately led to a petition against Energix’s project that has been signed by 5,500 people—nearly one-fifth of the entire Syrian population in the occupied Golan.
In January 2019, Al-Marsad published a final report on its investigation. Immediately after the report’s publication, individuals, including Energix’s agents, started a smear campaign to defame and demoralize Al-Marsad and its small staff. As part of this campaign, a letter accusing Al-Marsad of corruption in its financial practices was sent to Al-Marsad’s largest funder. The stated goal of the smear campaign was to force Al-Marsad to close. Al-Marsad refused to be cowed by these attacks and joined forces with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Planners for Human Rights (BIMKOM) to file comprehensive objections to Energix’s project with the Israeli Committee of National Infrastructure. Apparently frustrated by its failure to halt Al-Marsad’s defense of Syrians’ rights in the occupied Golan, Energix filed its legal complaint.
On 18 June 2019, Al-Marsad was notified that Energix had filed suit alleging that Al-Marsad had violated Israel’s defamation law and infamous anti-boycott law, which has received global condemnation. Energix’s complaint inaccurately characterizes Al-Marsad as supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement in coalition with “anti-Zionists.” Among other aspects, the complaint accuses Al-Marsad of having engaged in “slander” by observing, in its report, that Energix’s project violates international law. It is clear that Energix is appealing to the Israeli government’s affinity for persecuting human rights defenders to silence Al-Marsad by squeezing its condemnation of an industrial project into the parameters of Israel’s repressive anti-boycott law.
The suit against Al-Marsad has created a pivotal moment for human rights in the occupied Golan and, even more so, human rights defenders around the world. That is why Al-Marsad chose to petition the United Nations today. A corporation cannot be allowed to intimidate human rights defenders by filing frivolous lawsuits designed to limit free expression. Al-Marsad will continue to use all tools available to it to contest this suit and the attacks against it that seek to silence its human rights work.