Early on the morning on August 18, 2022, the Israeli army raided seven prominent Palestinian civil society and human rights organizations in occupied Ramallah, damaging property and confiscating files and equipment. The army welded the doors of these organizations shut and affixed military orders demanding their closure. Al-Haq was one of those raided; I am the general director. Following the raids, I was summoned for interrogation by Israeli intelligence officers and threatened with imprisonment and other measures should our organization continue operating.
These raids, closures, and threats of imprisonment followed the unilateral and illegal designation by Israel of six leading Palestinian civil society and human rights organizations as “terrorist” organizations in October 2021. They are the result of the one year of inaction by the international community, which has not challenged Israel enough to rescind the designations. For the Palestinian people, this international inaction is all too familiar after seven long decades of Israeli impunity and apartheid.
Despite Israel’s repressive campaign to eliminate Palestinian civil society, our position has not changed. We continue to document daily human rights violations irrespective of the perpetrator, be it the occupying power or the Palestinian authorities; advocate for Palestinian political prisoners; protect Palestinian children; and support and empower communities affected by Israel’s occupation. We are also continuing our international advocacy—pressing for accountability and justice for Palestinians at the International Criminal Court and advocating for the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.
With massive support, received from our partners and friends around the globe, we continue to operate, and we take pride in our work. But there is no denying that the future of our work is plagued by uncertainty, as Israel adopts military orders and employs “secret evidence” to quash our organization.
Some may ask, why I, as the general director of Al-Haq, have decided to ignore a military order closing and outlawing the work of our human rights organization. I draw my inspiration from former United Nations Special Rapporteur John Dugard, one of the pioneers of human rights law in apartheid-era South Africa. Of that country’s apartheid system, he wrote: “Law played a pivotal role in the apartheid state. Racial discrimination and political repression were not practiced outside the law in an arbitrary manner. On the contrary, racial injustice was perpetrated in accordance with legal rules, and political repression was administered according to carefully defined legal procedures.” This is not far away from our situation.
Since 1948, Israeli laws have been carefully designed to maintain an apartheid regime over the Palestinian people. As in South Africa, Israel has used laws and policies to systematically suppress all resistance and opposition to its regime. We see this again and again in the state’s use of excessive force, arbitrary detention, torture, and collective punishment, along with its smear and delegitimization campaigns against civil society organizations and human rights defenders. In fact, the “persecution of organizations and persons, by depriving them of fundamental rights and freedoms, because they oppose apartheid” is an element of the crime of apartheid under the Apartheid Convention.
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Yet, even as Israel has developed a system of laws to enact its control over the Palestinian people, it’s crucial to understand that these laws are incompatible with international law, and in many cases illegal under it. Consider Israel’s 2016 Counter Terrorism Law, which Israeli authorities have cited as the basis for outlawing our organizations. The UN Human Rights Committee has condemned the law’s vague and sweeping provisions—specifically those outlawing civil society organizations—as breaching human rights principles of legal certainty, necessity, proportionality, and the rule of law.
Moreover, Israel is not sovereign in the occupied Palestinian territory and does not have jurisdiction to apply its domestic laws in that territory, including Palestine’s capital, Jerusalem. This means that the law does not have a direct legal effect on our work and staff under international humanitarian law, which is the guiding law in the case of a belligerent occupation.
Regarding the military orders that Israel issued in November 2021 and August 2022 outlawing and ultimately closing our organizations, it is important to point out that Israel’s military occupation, which has been operating indefinitely and in violation of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people, is itself considered an illegal occupation by the United Nations General Assembly.
But even if Israel’s occupation were not illegal, under international humanitarian law an occupying power cannot change existing laws in the occupied territory unless two criteria are satisfied: It is absolutely necessary for the occupier’s own security or it is in the best interest of the occupied population. Eliminating and shutting down Palestinian civil society organizations, which function as vital vehicles to advance human rights, provide legal and humanitarian services, and ensure accountability for international crimes, is not in the interests of the occupied population. Rather, it violates our right to self-determination and is a violation of the right to freedom of expression and association.
Regarding the security argument, if we are threatening anything as Palestinian civil society and human rights defenders, it is Israel’s impunity. Israel’s issuance of over 1800 military orders since 1967, criminalizing any act that might be considered to oppose its regime, is more resonant of political and social control to advance colonization than security. Israel’s system of military rule has punished, outlawed, deported, incarcerated, killed, tortured, and silenced Palestinians—especially those with agency to confront its colonization—ultimately denying us their right to self-determination.
Palestinian human rights organizations are part of the global human rights movement. Our mandates are guided by the universality of human rights principles. We will not follow military orders that violate these global standards and principles. As the French philosopher Frédéric Bastiat wrote more than 150 years ago: “When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.”
We, members of Palestinian civil society and the Palestinian people, do not respect Israeli military orders, will not abide by them, and we will continue with our struggle toward dignity, freedom, and self-determination.