Al-Haq condemns in the strongest terms the most recent attack on the Health Work Committees (HWC), a Palestinian non-governmental health and developmental organisation, which provides health services, builds “development models to all segments of the Palestinian population, particularly the poor and the marginalized,” and lobbies and advocates “in support of favourable policies and legislations for the realization of [a] free democratic society and its citizens enjoying their social rights”.
At around 5:00 am on 9 June 2021, the Israeli occupying forces (IOF) raided the headquarters of HWC in Al-Bireh city, and delivered a military order forcing the office to close for six months. This is not the first attack carried out against HWC, but is rather a continuation of Israel’s systematic attack on Palestinian civil society, and a perpetuation of Israel’s collective punishment policy, and its disregard of the significant role of health care institutions, including the HWC, which is one of the main providers of healthcare for the protected Palestinian people, especially in the context of a global COVID-19 pandemic.
During the early raid, the IOF broke down the office’s main door, confiscated memory drives from the organisation’s computers, searched through the organisation’s properties, and confiscated a Palestinian flag and a map. Before the IOF withdrew, they placed copies of a military order in the office and on the main door of the organisation, which stipulated that the office should close after 24 hours of delivering of the order and until 7 December 2021 on the pretext of preserving “public order and the security of the Israeli Defence Forces [IDF].” The IOF also placed a paper that read: “The IDF closed the print shop for its assistance to the terrorist organisation, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.” The paper further read that the “The IDF will continue to implement the law upon anyone or place of work that assists terrorist organisations.” Before withdrawing at around 5:30 am, the IOF had placed metal barriers on the main door.
The most recent raid and the closing of the HWC office comes in the context of a wider attack on Palestinian civil society organisations that provide an array of essential services to a wide range of Palestinian communities, including health services. While Israel, the Occupying Power, continues to systematically and deliberately disregard its legal obligations to protect the right to health for the protected Palestinian population, HWC has been, including through its 12 centres and clinics located throughout the occupied West Bank, providing primary and secondary health services, especially to the most marginalised Palestinians, including those most affected by Israel’s unlawful and discriminatory policies and practices. During the COVID-19 pandemic, HWC’s efforts have been crucial, including by raising awareness relevant to the pandemic, carrying out local advocacy efforts to improve the Palestinian health system, providing medical care to COVID-19 patients in its health facilities, and reaching isolated communities through mobile clinics. Accordingly, Al-Haq asserts that the attack on HWC is not only an attack on the organisation, but rather a direct attack on the Palestinian protected people, particularly those who rely on HWC’s services, and constitutes illegal collective punishment.
This is the fourth time HWC offices are attacked and targeted by the IOF. The attacks include continuous arbitrary arrests of HWC staff members, some of whom were subjected to physical and psychological torture and ill-treatment. Until present, Israel continues to violate the rights of the detained HWC staff members to fair trials, amongst numerous other rights. Al-Haq also recounts a military declaration titled “declaration of an illegitimate organisation”, dated 22 January 2020, in which the Israeli occupying authorities declared HWC an “unlawful and illegitimate” organisation. This military declaration, however, was not sent to HWC, the concerned organisation, when issued. Al-Haq asserts that the Israeli allegations against the detained HWC individual staff members should not, in any way, result in retaliation policies and practices against the whole organisation, which amounts to unlawful collective punishment.
As we recall the systemic attacks against HWC staffers, offices and private property, Al-Haq reiterates that such attacks are not isolated incidents, but rather a part of Israel’s discriminatory judicial system, and Israel’s complicity in creating and maintaining an apartheid regime.
Al-Haq further notes that HWC is a registered Palestinian organisation, which adheres to Palestinian laws. Accordingly, by issuing the so-called “closing of property” military order, the Occupying Power is stepping on Palestinian laws, in complete disregard of bilateral agreements and international law. If anything, this attack further exemplifies Israel’s long-established and systematic policy of shrinking Palestinian civil space, which has been carried out with impunity for decades, with the aim to discredit, delegitimise, and silence Palestinians.