Palestinians in the West Bank are still being prosecuted under military orders that were designed to keep the peace in the early days of an occupation and that have stifled civil rights in the territory for more than 50 years, a watchdog group says.
The restrictions, some of which are based on laws passed during the British colonial era, are regularly used to break up protests, close radio stations and arrest activists under charges such as “attempt[ing] to influence public opinion … in a manner that may harm public order,” according to a report by Human Rights Watch.
The report was the last to be researched by the group’s Israel director, Omar Shakir, before he was deported from the country in November for his alleged support of a boycott campaign.
A planned press conference to launch the report in Amman was cancelled on Tuesday morning after Jordanian authorities failed to give the event approval in time. NGOs in the country are required to seek permission to hold public events. Shakir said approval was belatedly granted later the same day but after the scheduled launch time.
It says sites of protests are often suddenly declared to be “closed military zones”, meaning anyone who fails to immediately disperse can be arrested. The Israeli army convicted 4,519 people for failing to obey this order in the five years to June 2019.
Many of the laws are broadly worded, the paper says, such as military order 101, which prohibits any gathering of more than 10 people “in which a speech is made on a political subject, or which may be construed as political, or to discuss such a subject,” unless permission is granted by a military commander. An Israeli lawyer told HRW that she knew of no case where such permission had been sought or granted.
“Israeli military law in place for 52 years bars Palestinians in the West Bank from such basic freedoms as waving flags, peacefully protesting the occupation, joining all major political movements and publishing political material,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the group’s executive director for the region.
“These orders give the army carte blanche to prosecute anyone who organises politically, speaks out or even reports the news in ways that displease the army.”
Many of the restrictions were announced in the early days of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank from June 1967, a period in which jurists generally argue that international law permits certain rights to be suspended for the preservation of public order.
But HRW cites the Red Cross and the arguments of the Israeli government to argue the law holds that these rights must be expanded over time. “Suspending these rights for a week or month interrupts public life, but suspension for decades fundamentally distorts it,” the report says.
In contrast to Palestinians, Jewish settlers in the West Bank are governed by Israel’s more robust civil liberties regime, meaning people can live in the same neighbourhood but have entirely different rights to protest or express their opinions.
“Nothing can justify today’s reality where in some places people on one side of the street enjoy civil rights while those on the other side do not,” Whitson said.
( Source: The Guardian )