By John Hobson
Spending three months with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel (www.eappi.org) engaged me directly in human rights monitoring in vulnerable communities in the Northern West Bank.
Principally centred in the Tulkarem-Qalqilya area, a key focus involved monitoring the movement of farmers seeking to access their land through agricultural checkpoints situated along the separation barrier, a priority identified by local human rights organisations.
Since 2002/2003 many Palestinian communities have been physically cut off from their land as a consequence of the separation barrier which in many sections deviates substantially into the occupied Palestinian Territory and beyond the Green Line, the internationally recognised de facto border between Israel and the West Bank.
Qalqilya itself is a city enclosed on three sides and other communities lie within the area between the Green line and barrier, a military area often referred to as the ‘Seam Zone’.
Some 13 years since the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice called for the dismantling of the barrier, the daily infringement of movement is all too apparent. Restricted opening times and the complex system of permits also impact access to health and education.
Azzun is a small town located near to Qalqilya which has been the subject of military incursions and closure for many years. A key representative of the municipality invited us to witness the aftermath of a military night raid into a local home. Together with the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling in Ramallah female colleagues were able arrange a space where the testimonies of the women impacted by such house raids could be facilitated and recorded.
A repeated concern raised was the arrest and detention of teenagers in towns such as Azzun, often for allegations of stone-throwing. The treatment of minors under military law is routinely documented by organisations such as Defence of Children International [www.dci-palestine.org/] and Military Court Watch [www.militarycourtwatch.org]. In 2012 a delegation of family lawyers from the United Kingdom mandated by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office made a plethora of core and specific recommendations that would ensure compliance with the framework of international law as it relates to the treatment of children in prison and military detention [http://www.childreninmilitarycustody.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Child]. A request to return to the region to follow up the report has been prevented by the Israeli authorities, notwithstanding regular questions in Parliament [www.parliament.uk; Israel: Palestinians: 27341; Feb 2016].
Administrative detention is another area consistently raised by local human rights defenders.
Under Israeli Military Order 1651, as applied in the occupied West Bank, an individual can be detained for a period of 6 months if the authorities have “reasonable grounds to presume that the security of the area of public security require the detention”. Often a detention order is renewed and that process may continue indefinitely. Those detained are not informed of the reasons for their detention and neither are their lawyers.
In 2016, Addameer, the Palestinian Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, set out the legal framework of international law as it pertains to Israel’s continuing use of administrative detention. Whilst permitted with strict conditions upon imperative reasons of security, Addameer’s careful work shows how the systematic use of administrative detention falls short of a plethora of accepted international standards - from the transfer of Palestinian prisoners into Israeli jails, the restrictions on movement that obstruct family visits, to the holding of individuals for prolonged periods and in contravention of the 4th Geneva Convention [www.addameer.org].
We spent time listening to people released from prison, including a young man who had been held for 12 months under administrative detention, the non-renewal of a second period of detention having been negotiated following a 27 day hunger strike.
We also monitored recent settlement activity, updating local information of another matter intensely documented by the United Nations Office for the coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). In December 2016 UN Security Council Resolution 2334 reaffirmed that settlements are a ‘flagrant breach’ of international law and a major obstacle to a lasting peace.
EAPPI makes a clear call for advocacy where breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law are identified: put simply, to nurture awareness and action calling for the end to the military occupation of the West Bank and for a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians, on the basis of international law.
I previously visited the region with the organisation Avocats sans Frontieres in 2010 as part of a delegation examining the Palestinian housing crisis in East Jerusalem. Self-employment offers flexibility and after 15 years I was able to take time away from practice. It was a privilege to return to the area, working alongside Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups committed to long-term work in a conflict often viewed as intractable.
John Hobson returned from the Northern West Bank in February 2017