THE RAMALLAH-based Al-Haq human rights organisation has condemned as ‘misleading and inflammatory’ a recent publication by the Israeli Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs of a report entitled ‘Legal Assault: How the ICC Has Been Weaponised Against the US and Israel’.
The report, published last week, was written by a former director general of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, and a former secretary general of the World Jewish Congress, and is ‘the latest effort in a protracted smear campaign directed towards Palestinian civil society by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and other Israeli-aligned non-state bodies.
‘It takes specific aim at Al-Haq, its staff, and its partners in their pursuit of justice, accountability, and an end to impunity for international crimes committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territory against the protected Palestinian population,’ said an Al-Haq press release on Monday.
The report was spurred by recent collective legal action against Israel by Al-Haq, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, and the rights organisations Al Mezan and Al-Dameer, taken to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and a future criminal investigation entitled the Situation in the State of Palestine, it said.
Al-Haq continued: ‘It (the report) aims to discredit the Prosecutor of the ICC, her Office, Al-Haq and its partners, as well as specific members of their staff, and other persons involved in the “Situation in the State of Palestine,” and the “Situation in Afghanistan,” currently before the ICC.
‘In truth, the (Israeli) report contains little by way of content, and instead rehashes earlier smears by the State of Israel and aligned organisations, relying on baseless, spurious allegations and outdated information.
‘In this regard, it is telling that the report contains little information on the situation before the ICC, and instead opts to focus on tired and disproven claims of improper funding and conduct.’
Al-Haq said that it has faced many attacks and smear campaigns since its establishment in 1979.
These have included death threats, in particular against a former member of staff named in the report, incitement to racial hatred, violence, and attacks on its funding, with the ultimate goal of creating a coercive environment and ‘shrinking space’ wherein its work becomes impossible.
Nonetheless, said the human rights organisation, such targeting is not limited to Al-Haq, nor to civil society; Professor Michael Lynk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967, as well as his predecessors, have been similarly smeared and denied entry to Israel and Palestine outright.
Al-Haq’s engagement with the ICC has included the submission of detailed files of evidence and materials to the Office of the Prosecutor on war crimes and crimes against humanity committed within the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Similarly, on 16 March 2020, Al-Haq, along with its partners, submitted an amicus curiae brief to the ICC, arguing that the Court had full jurisdiction over the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, and that the ICC Prosecutor was well within her power to open a full investigation therein.
These organisations later published a detailed review paper analysing further amici briefs, and Al-Haq published a Q&A on the ‘Situation in the State of Palestine’.
Al-Haq stressed that it ‘will remain steadfast in its support of the ICC Prosecutor, and its call for justice, accountability, and an end to impunity in Palestine, including in the face of an ongoing and systematic smear campaign against the organisation, its partners, staff, and colleagues.’
It also welcomed the recent statement by the European Union’s High Representative, Josep Borrel, on behalf of the European Commission which stressed the independence and impartiality of the ICC proceedings in the ‘Situation in Palestine,’ and ‘insisting on the need to protect its neutrality and judicial independence’.
Further, Al-Haq added, the EU’s commitment to ‘continue its comprehensive assistance – political, financial and technical’ to protect the independent functioning of the ICC, is an important safeguard in light of the malign state party interests of Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, (and also Australia, Uganda and Brazil) in intervening to prevent the Court from investigating Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity in the occupied territory of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile on Monday, Israeli authorities continued to censor and try to silence Palestine TV’s operations in occupied Jerusalem by extending a closure order for six more months, which has been condemned an attack on the freedom of the press.
Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan first issued the order six months ago, closing Palestine TV’s office in East Jerusalem and banning its staff from doing any work for the official TV station under the threat of arrest and fines.
However, this did not stop Palestine TV from working underground in the occupied city despite the order, as admitted by Erdan in his extension of the closure order.
Israel is trying to ban any work for the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the occupied city and has pursued and detained officials, closed several offices and banned political, social, cultural, sports and economic activities in the city under the pretext they were sponsored by the PA.
Also on Monday, Israeli forces ordered a halt to the construction of some 13 houses and a park in Nahalin town, which is near the southern West Bank city of Bethlehem.
Head of Nahalin Council, Hani Fannoun, said that an Israeli military force and staff from the so-called Israeli Civil Administration raided the town, and slapped notices on eight Palestinian villagers ordering them to halt the construction of their houses – at least three of which are inhabited – purportedly for being built without licenses.
The soldiers also ordered a stop on the construction of a public park and retaining walls in the same town.
Israel demolishes Palestinian homes and structures almost on a daily basis as a way to take ‘demographic control’ of the occupied territories.
Israel denies planning permits for Palestinians to build on their own land or to extend existing houses to accommodate natural growth, particularly in Jerusalem and Area C, – which constitutes 60 per cent of the occupied West Bank and falls under full Israeli military rule – forcing residents to build without obtaining the rarely-granted permits to provide shelter for their families.
In contrast, Israel argues that building within existing Zionist colonial settlements is necessary to accommodate the ‘natural growth’ of settlers. So it easily gives the estimated 550,000 Jewish Israeli settlers building permits and provides them with roads, electricity, water and sewage systems that remain inaccessible to many neighbouring Palestinians.
The ‘Civil Administration’ is the name Israel gives to the body administering its military occupation of the West Bank.
Soldiers in this oxymoronically named Civil Administration determine where Palestinians may live, where and when they may travel (including to other parts of the occupied territories like Gaza and East Jerusalem), whether they can build or expand homes on their own land, whether they own that land at all, whether an Israeli settler can take over that land among other things.
- On Monday, several Israeli military vehicles infiltrated metres into the southern border of the Gaza Strip east of Khan Yunis, and razed land and placed dirt mounds while opening fire in the air before returning to their bases.
- Despite the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and international calls on Israel to stop demolition of Palestinians homes in the occupied territories, Israeli soldiers nevertheless raided the Ramallah-area village of Kobar in the early hours of Monday, and demolished the family home of a Palestinian detainee.
Witnesses said that a large army force raided the village and made for the home of Qassam Barghouti, who is detained in Israel on charges of taking part in the alleged killing of an Israeli settlerlast year.
They used an army bulldozer to demolish the top floor of the Barghouti family’s two-storey building and destroyed surrounding trees.
Residents clashed with the soldiers during the raid and pelted them with stones, they responded with rubber bullets and teargas, hitting one youth in the face with a teargas canister, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.
The army informed the Barghouti family on February 11 they were going to knock down their home as ‘punishment’ for the son’s action. Qassam’s mother Widad Barghouti, a media instructor at Birzeit University, was also detained on September 1st last year following her son’s arrest. She was recently released.
Family homes of two other Palestinians suspected of taking part in the same operation, which left one Israeli settler dead, were also demolished in March and April. The homes belonged to the families of the two Barghouti brothers, Saleh, who was shot dead by the army, and Assem, who is currently in an Israeli prison.