Saturday, 4 March 2017

The Middle East’s Only Self Declared Democracy Refuses Visas to Human Rights’ Watch

What has Israel got to hide (apart from torture, internment, extra-judicial executions & state-sponsored child abuse)?

It's strange to think but some people still classify Israel as a democracy
The effective functioning of civil liberties and human rights groups, free from state interference in their activities, is the hallmark of a democracy.  In Israel civil liberties groups, which are respected in most West European countries, are seen somewhat differently.  They are the enemy, traitors, the enemy within, agents of terrorism etc.  They are the fifth column doing the work of the Arabs.

In Israel the rhetoric of the Zionists is aided by fascist and McCarthyist groups like Im Tirzu, which are looked on with favour by the government.  However Israel has now gone a step further and refused to issue work permits to many of those working in the human rights field thus intending to cripple them.  
Illustrative: A screenshot from an Im Tirzu video, 'outing' four leftists as defending terrorists. Caption reads: 'When we fight terrorism, they fight us.' YouTube
This is of course a government which has waged an ongoing war against Breaking the Silence, a group of ex-soldiers who expose war crimes and malpractice.  Even the worst government would not openly dare to attack former soldiers who wish to expose the crimes of their own army  Not so in Israel.  Anyone criticising the armed forces must be an agent of terrorism.  Below are two articles on the current situation.  A typical article is Breaking the Silence: Sabotaging Israel from within by the settler news agency Arutz Sheva.

Tony Greenstein

An Israel flag flies near a Jewish settlement in Hebron West Bank Palestinian Territories. Israel is refusing to issue visas to Human Rights watch, accusing the NGO of having a ‘hostile’ agenda in its reporting of human rights violations. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Israel denies work permit to Human Rights Watch

Israel has refused to grant a work permit to a staff member of Human Rights Watch.

In a letter, Israel’s interior ministry alleged that Human Rights Watch works in the “service of Palestinian propaganda, while falsely raising the banner of ‘human rights.’”

The allegation, the letter added, had been made by Israel’s foreign ministry, which had recommended denying an application for a work permit made on behalf of Omar Shakir. He had been appointed the Human Rights Watch director for Palestine.

The letter, sent earlier this week, does not go into any further details.

Human Rights Watch has described the decision as “an ominous turn.”

“It is disappointing that the Israeli government seems unable or unwilling to distinguish between justified criticisms of its actions and hostile political propaganda,” Iain Levine, a Human Rights Watch representative, said.

The group stated that it had “regular access without impediments” to the occupied West Bank and present-day Israel for almost three decades. However, it noted that Israel has been blocking it from entering Gaza since 2010 – except for one visit last year.

Human Rights Watch says its team has worked with many arms of the Israeli state, including the police and military, and had even been called upon by the foreign ministry to intervene in a case where Israelis were victims of human rights abuses.


Human Rights Watch asked the Israeli authorities that Omar Shakir, a US citizen, be granted a work permit in July last year.

Israel’s interior ministry regulations state that a decision on work permit applications should take up to 60 days. In Shakir’s case, it took seven months.

Shakir told The Electronic Intifada that he has been waiting in limbo in New York until he was given a guarantee of entry by Israel.

“It has certainly impeded our work,” Shakir told The Electronic Intifada, explaining that he was scheduled to meet with Israeli officials last December regarding human rights abuses of Israeli citizens. He was unable to attend that meeting because of the delay in processing his application.
Human Rights Watch has retained local counsel and will challenge the decision.

In the meantime,” Shakir said, “we will continue to do our research and documentation.”

“With this decision, Israel puts itself in the same group as Sudan, Uzbekistan, North Korea and Egypt, all of which have barred Human Rights Watch from entering,” he added. “But we still monitor those countries, and we will continue to monitor abuses in Israel and Palestine.”

Ban on BDS activists?

Shakir said the last time the group needed to apply for an Israeli work permit was in 2011. On that occasion, it was granted a permit, without encountering any difficulties.

Shakir has previously worked for Human Rights Watch in Egypt and as an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based organization.

But Shakir explained that the denial was not about him. Foreign organizations in Israel must go through a two-step process to hire foreign nationals.

The interior ministry assesses the organization first and then investigates the individual who is seeking a permit.

Human Rights Watch did not get past the first step, Shakir said.

Human Rights Watch has noted that the rejection of its application came amid “increasing pressure” against those who monitor Israel’s activities.

Last year, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed a law that required Israeli human rights groups to report foreign funding.

The Knesset is poised to pass a law in the near future that would deny entry to foreign nationals who support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

In December, Israel detained, interrogated and deported Isabel Apawo Phiri, associate director of the World Council of Churches, claiming that she was affiliated with the BDS movement.

Refusing the visa for a Human Rights Watch worker will further mar Israel’s already tarnished reputation over its human rights record. Israel is reportedly re-examining the decision on orders from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after the US administration “voiced discontent,” the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported on Friday.

Human Rights Watch does not take a position on BDS but it did publish a report in January 2016 that called on businesses to halt their work in the settlements that Israel has built in the occupied West Bank.

Letter from Israeli government to Human Rights Watch explaining their decision to prohibit Shakir from entering and working in Israel. (Photo: Human Rights Watch)

Israeli authorities denied Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) Israel and Palestine director a work visa, the group announced in a statement on Friday. The group said Israel’s Interior Ministry accused  HRW of “Palestinian propaganda” and not being a “real human rights group.”

Omar Shakir was informed that he would be unable to obtain his visa, on Feb. 20, though the information was not public until Friday.

The Interior Ministry reportedly cited an opinion received from Israel’s Foreign Ministry, which stated that HRW’s “public activities and reports have engaged in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda, while falsely raising the banner of ‘human rights.”

HRW, a well-known nonprofit, nongovernmental human rights organization made up of roughly 400 staff members around the globe, has a history of being critical of Israel’s many human rights violations, labeled so according to international law and conventions.

Shakir responded to the denial on social media, slamming the Interior Ministry’s decision.

“The Israeli government is hardly the only one among the 90+ countries we cover to disagree with our findings, but branding us propagandists and fake human rights advocates puts Israel in the company of states like Egypt, North Korea and Sudan who have blocked access for our staff members,” Shakir said. “Israel claims to be only democracy in the Middle East, but is barring us at a time when our staff is based in and freely operates in several other countries in the region.”

“While the denial comes as a surprise (we have had regular access to Israel/West Bank, though not Gaza for three decades), it comes amid increasing pressure on Israeli and Palestinian rights groups and a wide-ranging assault on basic democratic values. Blocking our access will not silence us,” he added, “We will continue to scrupulously investigate abuses, expose the facts and struggle every day to defend the inherent human dignity of all.”

Iain Levine, deputy executive director of programs at Human Rights Watch said the decision and the “spurious rationale” behind it “should worry anyone concerned about Israel’s commitment to basic democratic values.”

“It is disappointing that the Israeli government seems unable or unwilling to distinguish between justified criticisms of its actions and hostile political propaganda,” Levine said.

On Friday afternoon, Emanuel Nahshon, a spokesperson for Israel’s Interior Ministry told Mondoweiss that Shakir “may enter Israel with a tourist visa” adding that “with regard to the work visa, this may be reconsidered if the organization appeals the Ministry of Interior decision.”

A group of 17 Israeli human rights organization condemned the Interior Ministry’s actions, calling the visa denial a “cause of grave concern.”

“Israel seeks to portray itself as a card-carrying member of the club of democratic countries,” the joint statement said, “Yet what is democracy without free speech, robust public debate and open criticism? A state that defines itself as democratic cannot turn its border control into a thought police.”

The organizations that signed the document were listed as: Adalah Center, Akevot, Amnesty, International Israel, Bimkom, Breaking the Silence. B’Tselem. Coalition of Women for Peace, Emek Shaveh, Gisha, Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, Haqel-Jews and Arabs in Defense of Human Rights, Human Rights Defenders Fund, Machsom Watch, Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, Physicians for Human Rights Israel, The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and Yesh Din.

“Neither closing Israel’s borders to human rights organizations and activists nor other measures by the Israeli government against organizations that criticize the occupation will deter us from continuing to report human rights violations in the territories controlled by Israel,” the groups added. “Attempts to silence the messenger will not suppress our message.”

Letter signed by Israeli NGOs protesting the government’s decision to prohibit Human Rights Watch’s country director from working in Israel. (Photo: Facebook
About Sheren Khalel
Sheren Khalel is a freelance multimedia journalist who works out of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. She focuses on human rights, women's issues and the Palestine/Israel conflict. Khalel formerly worked for Ma'an News Agency in Bethlehem, and is currently based in Ramallah and Jerusalem. You can follow her on Twitter at @Sherenk.

Israel denies visas to staff from 'hostile' Human Rights Watch

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