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Palestinian rights groups condemn Israel's denial of work permit for HRW director

Feb. 27, 2017 10:57 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 28, 2017 11:41 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- In a statement on Monday, the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC) condemned the Israeli government's recent denial of a work permit application for the Israel and Palestine director of international NGO Human Rights Watch on the basis that it was “not a real human rights group.”

“The refusal reflects a larger policy of repression of human rights work by Israeli authorities through movement restrictions, arbitrary arrests, travel bans, and denial of entry,” PHROC said, highlighting the controversial “NGO law” that Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed in July 2016 which compels organizations to reveal their sources of funding if more than 50 percent came from public foreign entities.

The statement also went on to highlight the cases of United Nations (UN) experts who have been denied entry from Israel, and cited UN experts on “the shrinking space for human rights work” in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. 

“PHROC stands in solidarity with Human Rights Watch and calls for the protection of human rights work, the freedom of movement for human rights staff, and an immediate end to repression and that serves to inhibit vital human rights work in Palestine, Israel and globally,” the statement concluded. 

On Saturday, Palestinian human rights organization al-Haq also released a statement condemning the decision, saying that “the Israeli government and its officials seek an environment devoid of criticism while disregarding their duties under international human rights and humanitarian law.”

In a letter denying a work permit for Omar Shakir dated Feb. 20, 2017, Israel’s Interior Ministry cited an opinion received from the Foreign Ministry that Human Rights Watch’s “public activities and reports have engaged in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda, while falsely raising the banner of ‘human rights.’"

Deputy Executive Director of Program at Human Rights Watch Iain Levine reacted to the move, saying that “this decision and the spurious rationale should worry anyone concerned about Israel’s commitment to basic democratic values."

The group refuted the claim that it “promotes Palestinian propaganda,” citing its records of challenging violations of human rights and of international humanitarian “by all actors in the region, including the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government in Gaza.”

“The Israeli government is hardly the only one to disagree with our well-researched findings, but efforts to stifle the messenger signal that it has no appetite for serious scrutiny of its human rights record,” Levine said. “We hope the Israeli authorities will reverse this decision and allow both international and domestic human rights groups to work freely.”

Human Rights Watch added that the group has retained counsel and intends to challenge the decision before an Israeli district court.

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