H.E. Ambassador Ms. Aviva Raz Shechter,
Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations in Geneva,
Fax: +41 22 716 05 55.
Email: [email protected]
I am William Nicholas Gomes, Human rights defender and Freelance journalist.
I am writing to voice my deep concern about the arbitrary detention of Mr. Avner Gvaryahu, Executive Director of the Israeli anti-occupation organisation Breaking the Silence, and Mr. Achiya Schatz, Communications Director of the organisation, as well as Mr. Michael Sfard, human rights lawyer and legal advisor of Breaking the Silence; the assault of six members of Ta’ayush; and the restrictions to freedom of expression against the non-profit Barbur Gallery.
According to the information received from the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, on August 31, 2018, Israeli Border Police arrested Messrs. Avner Gvaryahu, Achiya Schatz and Michael Sfard near the illegal outpost of Mitzpe Yair in the West Bank, and took them to Hebron police station.
Their detention took place while the three human rights defenders were leading an educational tour of South Hebron Hills to see the reality of the occupation and show their support to the six Ta’ayush activists that were violently attacked a few days before in the outpost of Mitzpe Yair. The delegation of about 120 people, coming from all over Israel, was cut short when security forces blocked them from their regular lookout point near Mitzpe Yair outpost.
Messrs. Avner Gvaryahu, Achiya Schatz and Michael Sfard were released from detention later the same day, after spending three hours in detention. They were summoned for questioning on October 14, 2018. The three were detained for entering a closed military area. The order closing the area was issued the morning of their arrest for the purpose of preventing the tour, and was shown to the delegation only after their arrival. The participants were not given the opportunity to leave the area before the arrest began. The order was not enforced against the settlers living in the Mitzpe Yair outpost. In the West Bank, under the current military regime, arbitrary or false arrest by the Israeli military forces targeting Palestinian civilians is common and routine.
Furthermore, on August 25, 2018, six members of Ta’ayush were documenting illegal construction in the unauthorized Jewish settlement of Mitzpe Yair in the South Hebron Hills when 10 settlers attacked them and broke their cameras. Four were evacuated to Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva, suffering from bruised ribs, arms and ankles, and have since been released from the hospital.
Finally, on August 30, Jerusalem’s Magistrate Court ruled that the non-profit Barbur Gallery will have to vacate its premises by February 2019, after the gallery hosted a lecture by Breaking the Silence in February 2017. Since then, the municipality of Jerusalem, owner of the premises, was pushing to move out its legitimate occupants.
I emphasise that attacks and campaigns against human rights organisations have been ongoing for some time in Israel and the OPT and that the above incidents are just recent illustrations of the closing civil society space.
I urge the Israeli authorities to end any act of harassment against all human rights defenders in Israel and the OPT and to carry out an immediate, thorough, impartial, and transparent investigation into all attacks targeting human rights defenders, including those described in this Urgent Appeal.
- Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory;
- Put an end to all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Messrs. Avner Gvaryahu, Achiya Schatz and Michael Sfard, as well as against all human rights defenders in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;
- Carry out a transparent, impartial, immediate and thorough investigation into the physical attack against the six members of Ta’ayush in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal, and sanction them as provided by the law;
- Guarantee in all circumstances the freedom of expression of all human rights defenders and human rights organisations in Israel and take action to ensure that no organisation faces reprisals for their legitimate human rights activities;
- Comply with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular Articles 1, 5(b), 6, 12.1 and 12.2 ;
- More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory in accordance with international human rights instruments.