The Israeli Supreme Court on November 5, 2019 upheld the Israeli government’s authority to deport Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director of Human Rights Watch. The decision now shifts back to the Israeli government; if it proceeds with deportation, Shakir will have to leave Israel by November 25.
Human Rights Watch has been calling on businesses to stop operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as part of their duty to avoid complicity in human rights abuses. However, even though Human Rights Watch calls on businesses to comply with this duty in many other countries as well, the court found that applying this principle to ensure respect for Palestinians’ rights constitutes a call for boycott, based on a broad reading of a 2017 law that bars entry to people who advocate a boycott of Israel or its West Bank settlements.
“The Supreme Court has effectively declared that free expression in Israel does not include completely mainstream advocacy for Palestinian rights,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “If the government now deports Human Rights Watch’s researcher for asking businesses to respect rights as we do across the world, there’s no telling whom it will throw out next.”
Many voices have been raised against this deportation decree, including 27 European states in a joint statement, 17 members of the United States Congress, the UN Secretary-General, three UN special rapporteurs on human rights and many independent groups and associations from the academic field.
Recently, the Israeli authorities have denied entry to their territory to a number of other international human rights defenders, denigrated their Israeli counterparts, imposed on them heavy financial transparency obligations, searched the offices of Palestinian human rights defenders who have been arrested.
Last October, the Israeli authorities, for example, prevented an Amnesty International staff member from leaving the occupied West Bank for undisclosed "security reasons". Laith Abu Zeyad was stopped at the Allenby/King Hussein crossing between Jordan and the Israeli-occupied West Bank on 26 October while on his way to attend a relative’s funeral.” This is a sinister move imposed as punishment for his work defending human rights of Palestinians,” said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International. «This travel ban further illustrates the Israeli authorities’ chilling resolve to silence human rights organizations and activists who are critical of the government. It also highlights the cruel and inhuman nature of their policies. Laith Abu Zeyad was previously denied a humanitarian permit to enter Israel from the occupied West Bank in September to accompany his mother for chemotherapy treatment in Jerusalem.
Israel has a track record of using arbitrary travel bans to harass and intimidate human rights defenders and peaceful activists. Omar Barghouti a co-founder of the BDS movement, has been repeatedly and arbitrarily banned from travel since 2016. Shawan Jabarin, Director of Palestinian rights organization al-Haq, has also faced an arbitrary and punitive travel ban.
In recent years, Israeli authorities have dramatically intensified their intimidation of civil society organizations and their staff in Israel and the OPT. In September, Israeli forces raided the offices of Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, a Palestinian human rights organization.