On Sept. 5, I received the tragic news that my mother was diagnosed with cancer. As well as trying to cope with the shock and the unrelenting challenges of life-or-death uncertainty, as a Palestinian living in the West Bank, I also had to worry about something else: Israel’s occupation and its brutal control of all aspects of our daily lives.
When I learned about my mother’s illness, I applied for a travel permit from the Israeli military to accompany my mother to medical appointments at the hospital in East Jerusalem, where she was to receive chemotherapy treatment. For decades, Israel has imposed a permit system restricting all movement for Palestinians, who are required to apply for special authorization to enter Israel and occupied East Jerusalem for any reason, including work, medical care, family visits, and trips to religious, cultural, and archaeological sites.
As in so many cases involving younger Palestinians, particularly men, Israeli authorities denied my permit request for undisclosed “security reasons.” This means that twice a month, when my mom goes to receive her chemotherapy at the hospital — only a 15-minute drive from our home — I am forbidden from accompanying her. I must stay put, in the living room, and wait for updates about how she’s doing over the phone.
Israel’s punishment didn’t stop there. On Oct. 26, when I was heading to Jordan to attend my aunt’s funeral, Israel prevented me from traveling abroad, again for “security reasons.”
Israel’s occupation manages to separate us from our loved ones in life and death, in the most hideous and punitive ways. Now, I can no longer leave the occupied West Bank at all. In the simplest and most definitive terms: I am locked in.
The “security reasons” for which I have been banned have never been revealed to me. What has become increasingly clear, however, is that Israeli authorities are targeting human rights advocates with “security” bans for the role we play in exposing Israeli human rights violations.
When I began working for Amnesty International as the Israel and Palestine campaigner in 2017, I was granted a permit so I could travel to our office in East Jerusalem. But earlier this year, Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan instructed his ministry to “examine the possibility of preventing the entry and stay of Amnesty International in Israel.” He made this decision following the release of our report exposing how tourism companies such as TripAdvisor and Airbnb are profiting from Israeli settlements.
The irony is salient, as throughout 2019, I’ve been campaigning on cases of human rights defenders who were either arrested, banned from traveling, or kicked out of the country. In September 2018, Israel arrested Ayman Nasser, the legal unit coordinator of Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer, and he is still being held without charge or trial. Prominent Bedouin leader Sheikh Sayyah al-Turi was detained in December 2018 and released last August for his role in the fight for the residents of al-‘Araqib to remain on the lands of their village, which the Israeli authorities have demolished over 150 times.
Earlier this year, Israel prevented Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights defender and co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, from traveling abroad to attend his daughter’s wedding, when Israeli authorities refused to renew his travel document. Palestinian photojournalist Mustafa al-Kharouf continues to face threats of deportation, after having his application for family unification rejected by Israeli authorities.
These silencing attempts are not limited only to Palestinian human rights advocates. Last month, Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch, who is a U.S. citizen, was deported for his role in highlighting Israel’s human rights violations.
These cases provide concrete proof of Israel’s intensifying war on human rights defenders and civil society organizations. As I campaign for the rights of these brave advocates, I now find myself in the same shackles.
The growing list of human rights defenders who are detained, attacked, denied entry, or facing deportation or travel bans illustrates the heavy price they are forced to pay for carrying out their vital work of protecting and promoting basic rights and freedoms. This list is neither comprehensive nor static. Trends in Israeli policies and practices indicate that the list is likely to continue to grow.
Human rights defenders today are unable to carry out their peaceful work without fear of reprisal by Israel. Activists who dare to challenge Israel’s appalling human rights record are operating in a worsening climate of fear, uncertainty, incitement, and repression.
Third states, particularly those that include human rights protection as part of their foreign policy, such as EU member states, have occasionally condemned such arbitrary measures, but have not taken concrete action. Israeli officials interpret this inaction as a green light to continue intensifying the repression of human rights defenders. Now is the time that they stand up for these rights defenders and make it clear that Israel’s attacks against civil society will not be tolerated.