The Israeli army has deprived Palestinians of fundamental freedoms by arresting Palestinian journalists, activists, and others for anti-occupation speech.
Since 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank, it cast tough control using military orders given at the time. Even if those prohibitions were justified under the pretext of protection during the early years of the occupation, they no longer carry water after more than five decades.
Instead, Israel should provide full human rights safeguards to Palestinians living in the West Bank, on par with the rights it provides to its own residents. The rule of occupation expects Israel to return the occupied Palestinian people to “public life.” The longer a military occupation lasts, the more military rule can imitate a regular government. After 54 years of occupation and no end in sight, Israel should give Palestinians the right to a more natural public and political activity, including the right to free expression.
However, according to a 2019 Human Rights Watch report titled “Born Without Civil Rights,” this is far from the case. Farid, born in Bethlehem, has long been a vocal opponent of Israel’s occupation. He’s a soft-spoken guy who loves working behind the scenes, despite his fame in human rights circles. He tracks human rights violations by the Palestinian Authority and Israel in the West Bank as a lawyer for the Independent Commission on Human Rights, a quasi-official agency of the Palestinian Authority, and calls for reform.
In 2016, he participated in a one-hundred-person protest in an annual rally demanding the opening of al-Shuhada Street in Hebron, the West Bank city where hundreds of Jewish Israeli settlers have chosen to live.
A bustling Palestinian market used to be located on this street. However, beginning in 1994, the Israeli army started to gradually close the street to Palestinians. The sanctions started after an Israeli settler killed 29 Palestinians praying in a Hebron mosque, and they became more serious after Palestinians took revenge by killing settlers during the early 2000s Intifada.
Despite the fact that peaceful demonstrations are protected by the right to free speech and assembly, the court charged Farid with “incitement” for “attempt[ing] to manipulate public opinion… in a manner that could damage public order or protection,” citing his chants, “waving Palestinian Authority flags,” and engaging in a demonstration without a permit. They also accused him of entering a “restricted military zone,” and assaulting a soldier, but provided no proof of these charges beyond his nonviolent demonstration involvement.
Journalists, human rights activists, and bloggers from Palestine are often the targets of such unlawful policies. Travel bans and movement limits imposed by the Annexation Wall and military checkpoints impede their work and lead them to the persistent threat of arrest and detention, as well as disgrace.
Travel limitations are often focused on classified information. Irene Khan, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and speech, urged Israel to lift limitations against journalists and human rights defenders. She stressed that hidden facts cannot be used to justify such bans, and that anyone should be able to question the details used to enforce limits on freedom of movement.
Furthermore, the Special Rapporteurs in previous years, like Frank La Rue, recurrently expressed grave concern about the unlawful arrest and imprisonment of journalists, as well as Israeli security raids on Palestinian media outlets or organizations.
Palestine is now in a position to pursue ratification of key international human rights treaties, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees the right to freedom of speech (article 19), assembly (article 21), and association (article 22), as well as the right to participate in political life (article 25).