On Monday, 15 April 2019, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) launched its 2018 annual report, which is the 22nd of its kind issued by PCHR on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). The ceremony was held in al-Dira Hotel in Gaza City and was attended by a great number of decision-makers, politicians, representatives of human rights organizations and civil society, and youth amidst huge media coverage.
During his opening speech, Dr. Riyadh al-Za’noun, the Chairman of PCHR’s Board of Directors (BOD), declared the launch of the report and welcomed the audience. He then said that the report is the most important document issued annually by PCHR and is the harvest of PCHR’s work for a whole year. He criticized US’s absolute support for Israel that encourages it to commit further violations against the Palestinians, including murders, settlement crimes and arrests. He also condemned the threats by the US against the International Criminal Court if the latter dared to open investigations targeting US or Israel. He also criticized the practices and sanctions against Gaza which attempt to undermine its dignity and steadfastness. He added that in light of all the darkness, PCHR lights a candle by issuing its report which professionally documents the human rights violations in the oPt. At the end, Al-Za’noun thanked all PCHR’s staff members who made this report an international reference for those seeking the truth.
Lawyer Raji Sourani, PCHR’s Director, presented a concentrated review of the human rights situation in 2018. Sourani started his speech by addressing the Great March of Return along the border fence of the Gaza Strip and use of unjustified violence and excessive forces against it by the Israeli forces that inflicted dozens of killings and thousands of injuries among civilians. Sourani emphasized that the Israeli forces’ threats against those participating in the protests started even prior to outbreak of the protests as the Israeli Chief of General Staff threatened to target whoever participates in the protests. Sourani highlighted the results published in the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry relevant to the Return protests, which were the same concluded in the human rights organizations’ statements, as the Commission of Inquiry stressed the legitimate right to peaceful assembly and that all those protests did not pose any threat to the life of the Israeli soldiers.
Sourani pointed out that these protests came after more than 13 years of an unjust and illegal closure imposed on the Gaza Strip and its catastrophic impact on civilians’ life. He added that This closure significantly increased the rates of poverty and unemployment among graduates and aggravated the electricity and wastewater crisis in addition to other consequent crises which severely affect Palestinian civilians, who are the main victims of such crises.
Sourani highlighted the violations against the Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, referring in particular to the ongoing ethnic cleansing and efforts to make a Jewish majority in all parts of the city in addition demolition and seizure of property under the pretext of unlicensed building. In the West Bank, the Israeli Civil Law is applicable in around 70% of its territory, in addition to the settlement expansion, which is practiced daily and on a wide scale horizontally and vertically. He also talked about the building of settlement roads that connect the Israeli settlements in the West Bank with cities in Israel and the daily incursions into the Palestinian cities and villages, where killings and large-scale arrests are carried out targeting thousands of Palestinians. He added he doubts that the PA would continue to exist, especially in light of the facts on the grounds and the threats by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to allow the establishment of a Palestinian State west of the Jordan River, in reference to the West Bank.
Sourani said that: “Today, we face a painful and bitter reality in the oPt: On one hand, Gaza has been under unjust and illegal closure for over 12 years, and the West Bank has witnessed an unprecedented expansion of settlement activities and property seizures, while Jerusalem has witnessed ethnic cleansing and Israeli effort to create a Jewish majority . Therefore, it can be said that year was the worst since the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory”
Sourani then talked about the Palestinian detainees in the Israeli jails and their hunger strike, which has been ongoing for 8 consecutive days. He added that supporting them in their battle is a necessity and must because they are the conscience of the nation and fatally live behind bars. He also said that the detainees took that difficult step after the Israeli authorities had procrastinated about their demands and rights. Thus, they were forced to struggle using their body cells after exhausting all means.
Raji al-Sourani stressed that these crimes committed by the Israeli forces would not be carried out without the international community’s conspiracy of silence. He also pointed out to the threats that the ICC and its judges received from the US administration, including the closure of their bank accounts, cancellation of US visas and the arrest and prosecution if they dared to open files relevant to war crimes committed in Palestine and Afghanistan.
He also discussed the deterioration of the human rights situation in the oPt for a whole year. He stressed that the state of public freedoms, including freedom of peaceful assembly, continued to deteriorate. He referred in particular to the recent popular movement “We want to live” in last March and how the protests faced unjustified repression by the security services in Gaza. He also addressed violations of the right to peaceful assembly in the West Bank as well. Sourani wondered How we could defend our right to peaceful assembly within the peaceful protests along the eastern borders with Israel; meanwhile, the Palestinian authorities do not allow people to practice their right to peaceful assembly in the oPt, adding that we should not act selectivity!
Sourani also shed the light on crimes of torture practiced in Security Services’ detention centers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He referred in particular to the case of Mohammad Safi who said that he was tortured on grounds of the popular movement in northern Gaza Strip and lost his sight during his detention. Moreover, he also talked about Mohmoud al-Hamalawi’s death in Beitunia Prison in western Ramallah 14 days after being arrested by the Palestinian Preventive Security Service and then detained in inhumane conditions, where he might be subject to torture.
Furthermore, Sourani discussed the latest Constitutional Court’s decision to dissolve the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). He stressed that the Court did not meet the proper procedures for its formation and was politicized. Sourani emphasized that the Court’s decision to disolove the PLC was unconstitutional, weak, and lacks the sufficient reasoning. He elaborated that this decision contradicts an explanatory decision issued by the same court in 2016. He also talked about the Judiciary independence crisis and overthrow of the Attorney General in the West Bank after a quick hearing was held the Supreme Court, indicating a clear political interference in the judiciary.
Sourani also talked about the violations of the right to form associations in the oPt. He shed the light on the restrictions and obstacles imposed on the civil Society organizations, particularly with regard to funding. Additionally, he talked about the Executive Regulations, which impose further restrictions on civil society organizations and threaten the very existence of it. Sourani also explained the complicated measures imposed by the former Palestinian Cabinet on the non-profit companies in order to receive their financial transactions, including obtaining security clearance from the security services, relevant ministries and the Palestinian Cabinet itself.
It is noteworthy that hard and soft copies of PCHR’s annual report summary in both English and Arabic languages were distributed to the attendees. Moreover, PCHR will soon publish the annual report in English on its website.