Human Rights Defenders in Israel and OPT

Within an intensifying hostile environment of threats and assaults, Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders (HRDs) work to reverse the destructive effect that the longstanding occupation has had on the area’s democratic principles and human rights.

 The grave human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza) is characterized by the suppression of rights, deterioration of the rule of law, and neglect of international obligations, which sanctions a steadily shrinking space for HRDs and civil society organizations.

Determined to transform these alarming trends, HRDs in Israel and the OPT are engaged in advocacy and litigation to expose and combat discriminatory practices, illiberal policies and painful realities. As result, they are repeatedly subjected to physical attacks, arbitrary detention, and intimidations aimed to silence their work. Irrespective of Israel’s responsibilities under the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and international human rights law, the Israeli authorities and law enforcement agencies frequently ignore and restrain the protected fundamental freedoms of HRDs. UN experts have recurrently warned against the deteriorating conditions for HRDs in Palestine and Israel. The situation was particularly highlighted by Michel Lynk in his recent Report as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, which was submitted to the Human Rights Council in March 2017. The report expressed profound concerns for the HRDs circumstances, calling on the Israeli government to end the flagrant violations of human rights and honor its obligations under international law. 

“[HRDs] provide invaluable advocacy, independent and reliable analysis, effective protection, the courage to investigate and protest, and offer both a progressive interpretation of existing rights as well as a vision of new rights in embryo. The work of these human rights defenders animates and enlarges the enjoyment of human rights for the rest of us.” UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk

RENEWED SUPPORT FOR THE HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS FUND

One of the integral organizations working to protect HRDs within the escalating hostilities is the Human Rights Defenders Fund (HRDF) in Israel.  The HRDF was founded in 2011 to provide HRDs with the support they need to repel attacks on their safety, life and work, and to perform their activities more effectively. Its mission is to protect HRDs advancing democracy, liberty and equality in Israel, through the provision of legal aid. Its main activities thus involve supporting legally persecuted defenders, providing professional tools to new and prevailing lawyers, as well as building legal capacities to ensure top quality human rights defense in courts. In addition, the HRDF offers training exercises and legal instrument for activists to encourage and use non-violent protest, allowing activists to better strategize and execute activities, while reducing the risk involved. The HRDF also engages in international advocacy, working with NGOs, INGOs and representatives of the international community to distribute information on the work of HRDs, the threats they face, and the support they require.

It is because of this important work that the NHRF has decided to renew its support to the HRDF; making it the fourth time the organization receives grants from the NHRF. The previous cooperative projects successfully implemented their intended activities, resulting in effective legal representation and support to HRDs. The supported activities enabled rapid response to the needs of HRDs at imminent risk, and provided appropriate legal aid which prevented protracted detentions. On multiple occasions arrested HRD’s were released after the intervention provided by the HRDF. It is therefore the NHRFs view that the HRDF substantially contributes to the promotion and protection of human rights and HRDs within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we look forward to follow the organization’s continued work and achievements.