In November-December 2021, Al-Haq sent two urgent appeals to the United Nations Special Procedures calling on the UN Special Rapporteurs to protect Palestinian human rights organizations and individuals confronted with Israel’s illegal laws, policies and practices aimed at cultivating a coercive environment for Palestinian human rights defenders that oppose its regime of apartheid.
The first urgent appeal submitted on 16 November 2021 followed up on Israel-Orchestrated Mass Surveillance Campaign Against Palestinian Human Rights Defenders. On 8 November 2021, Front Line Defenders reported that the iPhones of at least six Palestinian human rights defenders working for the six designated organizations had been subjected to mass surveillance by Pegasus spyware, manufactured by the Israeli NGO Group. Israeli surveillance of Palestinian human rights defenders that confront its discriminatory policies and practices is a mainstay of its strategy aimed at facilitating a coercive environment to thwart Palestinian resistance to its prolonged military occupation, colonization and apartheid. Over the past decades, other acts repressive acts have included promoting racial hatred and violence, hate speech, arbitrary arrests, torture and ill-treatment, death threats, travel bans, residency revocations, deportations, and the labelling of Palestinian human rights defenders as ‘terrorists.’
The second urgent appeal submitted on 21 November 2021, brought by the SOAS Centre for Human Rights Law on behalf of the six designated organizations, provides a legal analysis of Israeli’s Counter-Terrorism Law of 2016 and concludes on its blatant illegality with regard to international human rights and humanitarian law. On 19 October 2021, the Israeli Minister of Defense designated Al-Haq, Defense of Children-Palestine, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Addameer, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees as “terrorist organisations” under Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Law, with grave consequences attached herewith, including: the closure of the organizations’ offices, the seizure of their assets and the blockade of their funding, the arbitrary arrest and detention of their staff members.
Both spyware surveillance of human rights defenders and Israel’s designations form part of an interconnected network of inhuman and repressive acts against those who oppose its apartheid regime. This is evidenced by the timing of the successive actions: Israel’s designations were issued just days before the official release of Front Line Defenders’ report on spyware surveillance. It doubtlessly suggests an attempt to preemptively discredit Front Line Defenders’ revelation. On 8 November 2021, the Israeli National Security Correspondent Ronen Bergman recognized that the Israeli Ministry of Defense had indeed accelerated the outlawing of the organizations to justify the hacking of their staff phones.
Finally, the urgent appeals recall that such repression constitutes unlawful acts aimed at labelling Palestinian human rights organizations and individuals as “terrorists” to gradually isolate them from their allies, donors and the international community as a whole. They result in gross violations of international law, in particular the right to freedom of expression, opinion and peaceful assembly. All in all, they are part and parcel of Israel’s broader strategy of racial domination, appropriation over their lands, their natural resources, dispossession and erasure of the Palestinians as a people. They gravely infringe on Article II(f) of the Apartheid Convention, as the “persecution of organizations and persons by depriving them of fundamental rights and freedoms, because they oppose apartheid,” and as such constitute a crime against humanity under Article 7(1)(j) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.