Sub-Saharan migrants transiting through Algeria: Migratory farm labor in Covid times

Sub-Saharan migrants transiting through Algeria: Migratory farm labor in Covid times

The agricultural sector in Algeria relies on the informal labor force of Sub-Saharan migrants on their way to Europe. Interviews with migrants highlight their precarious conditions of life and work, ...

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Rethinking Transactional Sex in Humanitarian Settings: Reflections for the way forward

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Palestinian Human Rights Defenders need protection: what can we do?

On 19 October 2021, the government of Israel issued a military order that designated six, renowned and award-winning Palestinian human rights groups as “terrorist organisations”. The reason for this military order, and the evidence for making such designations, have not been disclosed. This is the latest of Israel’s longstanding efforts to undermine the work of these organisations. It also seems clear that this action is intended to intimidate donors and supporters of these organisations.

The Palestinian human rights organisations under threat

The six organisations affected by Israel’s military order are: Addameer, Al-Haq, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defence for Children International-Palestine, Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and Union of Palestinian Women Committees. The work of these six organisations is both crucial to a future peace in Israel and Palestine, and has been invaluable for the work of United Nations human rights treaty bodies, as well as Special Rapporteurs and Commissions of Inquiry, and for the International Criminal Court that is currently investigating international crimes in Palestine. Declaring the work of these organisations as “terrorist” not only undermines efforts at peace, but also places individuals who work for them in a potentially very dangerous situation, and potentially creates dilemmas for states, individuals, and organisations who have supported them (financially or otherwise) regarding the continuity of that support. This combination of (possible) effects forms an existential threat to the work of the six organisations, which no doubt is intended by the government of Israel.

Addameer was founded in 1992 and advocates for Palestinian political prisoners who suffer long-term arbitrary detention, without charge or trial. Al-Haq, founded in 1979, is the West Bank affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists-Geneva, and has issued dozens of meticulously documented reports on the countless human rights violations that Palestinians experience daily. These violations include denials of the right to housing and freedom of movement, lack of protection against settler violence, and a long list of international crimes, most of which are connected to Israel’s regime of apartheid, itself a crime against humanity. The Bisan Center for Research and Development, in operation since the late 1980’s, focuses on the most marginalised communities in Palestine, including women, youth, and workers in the most rural and deprived areas, and advocates for their development needs. Defence for Children International-Palestine has, since 1991, documented serious human rights violations directed against children, including inhuman and degrading punishment and treatment, arbitrary detention, torture, and unlawful killings. The organisation also provides legal assistance and representation to these children in Israeli military tribunals.

The Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) is one of the oldest Palestinian NGOs that advocates for Palestinian farmers’ rights to sovereignty of their land and products. They have played a leading role in documenting settler violence against Palestinian farmers, work that is especially important now as Palestinians across the West Bank are facing massive settler violence when they try to harvest their olive crops. This is confirmed by reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross, which have documented that from August 2020 up until August 2021, settlers destroyed over 9000 Palestinian olive trees, in addition to increased levels of violence and harassment directed against Palestinian farmers. The Union of Palestinian Women Committees (UPWC), established in 1980, is the umbrella organisation for all Palestinian women’s groups in the Occupied Territories. Its staff have supported Palestinian women’s rights, equal opportunities for men and women, and equity between social classes. UPWC has been a major force in the women’s rights movement in Palestine, and plays an active role in the global movement for women’s rights, including in relation to attention for gender-based violence.

Global reaction to the designation

B’tselem was among the first Israeli organisations to condemn the Israeli government’s designation as a ‘draconian’ measure. In addition, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the designations as “an attack on human rights defenders, on freedoms of association, opinion and expression and on the right to public participation”, and called for the designations to be “immediately revoked”. International human rights NGOs Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also issued strong statements condemning the designations. They have been joined by international legal experts, including the celebrated South African law professor John Dugard, who also reflected on the similar treatment of human rights organisations by South Africa’s apartheid regime in the 1980s.

On 3 November 2021, more than 30 Dutch organizations addressed the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Dutch Parliament; they called on the Netherlands to:

  • publicly speak out against and condemn Israel’s decision as an unjustified violation against civil society;
  • appeal to Israel to retract this military order with immediate effect;
  • continue its support to Palestinian partner organisations and ensure that Dutch banking and financial institutions disregard Israel’s order;
  • openly support the work of these affected organisations.

Above all, the Netherlands has been called upon to ensure support to civil society, and especially to human rights defenders who speak out in defence of the rights of Palestinians.

All of these demands by Israeli, international, and Dutch human rights organisations are fully in-line with the United Nations Declaration and the European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders. Referring to these sources, the Dutch government has openly declared that it “supports human rights defenders, so that they can do their work effectively and safely”.

Valuable time, however, has been lost since 19 October. Even worse, in January 2022, the Dutch government announced that it was stopping its support to one of the six designated organisations (UAWC), even despite their admission that they lacked evidence of a link to terrorist activity.

Action is needed NOW

Respect for international law, and the UN and EU guidelines on human rights defenders, should compel the government of the Netherlands to reverse its decision to defund UACW, and to urge the European Union to join United Nations experts, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, and others, in irrefutably condemning Israel’s designations.

So, what can we do now?

Both financial and diplomatic support are crucially needed during this time when Palestinian civil society is under great pressure from Israel’s military and apartheid regime. This is why we produced a letter for individual sign-on, to protest the Dutch government’s decision, and why we will be organising a webinar on 27 January 2022 to discuss this further. For more information, please register here, or alternatively contact our network.


An earlier version of this article, which we provide key updates to above, was published in the Dutch newspaper Trouw.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

Jeff Handmaker is Associate Professor in Legal Sociology at the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Christian Henderson is Assistant Professor of International Relations of the Middle East at Leiden University. Both are supporters of Dutch Scholars for Palestine.

Marthe Heringa is a student at Leiden University and an organiser of Students for Palestine.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

The noise never stops: life in Palestine during the Israeli occupation – a conversation with Rana Shubair

The noise never stops: life in Palestine during the Israeli occupation – a conversation with Rana Shubair

The noise never stops. The sky is filled with the buzzing of drones, echoing on and on, and with the sound of buildings collapsing as they are bombed. It’s not ...

Tearing down the walls that colonise Palestine, a thousand bricks at a time

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What can we do as Palestine burns?

It is May 2021. Once again, Palestine is burning. Again, the US- and EU-funded Israeli military machine is in full throttle and again, the US – now led by Joe Biden – persistently blocks a UN Security Council Resolution, even to call for a cessation of violence. I am again writing, the latest of dozens of articles, feeling hopeless as people are killed and most of the world remains silent. I ask myself, again … what can I do?

Picasso’s painting of Guernica 1(937) with Palestine colours

In the weeks leading up to the violence that is now shaking Palestine, there has been “fear and fury” in Jerusalem. The pro-settler group Nahalat Shimon has been using lawfare to try and evict Palestinians from their homes in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah (at the time of writing, the case was on appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court). And the violence has spread across the country. Jewish-Israeli mobs have roamed the streets of the “multicultural” towns of Acre, Haifa and Lod, searching for those who are Palestinian – or who look “Arab” – dragging them from their cars and homes, and in one case beating an Arab man on live television. A smaller, but totally unacceptable number of Jewish civilians have also been killed in the mob violence.

Other mobs of Jewish-Israelis roamed through streets, chanting “death to Arabs” and smashing up storefront windows of Palestinian-owned shops in scenes that the organisation Jewish Voices for Peace described as reminiscent of the Nazi-led Kristallnacht.

Also in May, a massive crowd of Jewish-Israelis celebrated in the square outside the Western Wall, celebrating Jerusalem Day, gazing above the square as Palestinians fled a violent police raid of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, one of the holiest places in Islam, during Eid-al-Fitr.

Netanyahu has firmly declared that he would “bring back sovereignty to Israel’s cities with an iron fist, if necessary”. The latest round of violence is no doubt a welcome distraction for the Israeli strongman who has been on trial in Israel for corruption and continually unable to form a government, leading to the country’s fourth election in two years.

And as if that were not horrifying enough, Gaza, too, is in flames – again. The territory is already struggling with a humanitarian crisis in the midst of a 15-year-long Israel siege of the territory. Enraged by the violence in Jerusalem at one of Islam’s holiest places, Hamas militants began launching mostly homemade rockets into sparsely populated Israeli towns. While the majority of the bombs were destroyed by sophisticated missile defence systems provided by the US government, some have managed to make it through. As of 13 May this year, a total of seven people – six Israelis and an Indian national – had reportedly been killed, including an Israeli child. There have been reports of Israelis fleeing with their terrified children to bomb shelters and safe rooms.

The Israeli military – the most technologically advanced on Earth – responded with its usual, brutally terrifying force, which Netanyahu vowed to continue. Once again, Israel’s massively well-armed military has targeted densely-populated civilian areas. By 13 May, the numbers of dead Palestinians was reported to be 113, the large majority of whom were civilians. According to the United Nations relief agency OCHA, these numbers include 14 Palestinian children.

So how did this all start?

To understand how this latest bout of violence started, one needs to face what facilitates these kinds of eruptions of violence, time and again. There are four points we need to understand, two of which squarely point to Israel, and two that point to the rest of the world.

First, Israel is a settler-colonial regime and the majority of Palestinians living in Gaza are refugees and their descendants. Some regard this regime as having started in 1967 when Israel occupied the territories of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem; others see this as having begun in 1948 when Israel unilaterally declared its independence after ethnically cleansing the territory of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and refusing them to return to their homes and livelihoods. One could go back even further than that, and certainly to the end of the first World War, when Ottoman Rule ended and Britain was designated to administer Palestine and prepare the territory for independence. This never happened. Regardless of when one considers this regime to have started, the main point is that it continues and expands until this day.

Second, Israel is an apartheid regime, both in the Palestinian territories that it continues to belligerently occupy and administer in a grossly unequal way that Al Haq, B’tselem, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations in a difficult-to-find report all describe as a situation of apartheid. Apartheid also exists in Israel itself, as affirmed in 2018 with a racist Nation-State Law that affirmed Israel as a homeland for Jews and Hebrew as the only official language (Arabic used to be included); it is described as a system of exclusionary constitutionalism.

Third, Israel is persistently supported, particularly by the European Union and the United States. Despite an International Criminal Court investigation of reported war crimes and crimes against humanity now taking place, US and EU support remains unwavering, including USD 3.8 billion of military aid that the US provides every year, which is more than its entire combined aid budget for every other country in the world.

Finally, there is widespread ignorance, with citizens and politicians confused by media reporting that – in its well-intended, but misguided efforts at “balance” – ends up favouring an Israeli perspective.

So, what can we do?

Hopelessness tends to lead to inaction. It is the human condition to turn a blind eye when the situation is just too awful, confusing, or far away. However, as Angela Davis powerfully reminded us in a statement posted on 17 May, people in the United States did not remain silent when George Floyd was killed from a police officer putting his knee in Floyd’s neck. And people should not remain silent now as Palestinians – and Israelis – have their lives cut short by yet another wave of violence. Davis condemned not only the violence in Israel and Palestine, but condemned the Biden-Harris administration for their complicity in it.

Clearly, the violence should stop immediately, and there should be justice, but what can those of us in The Hague, New York, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, Karachi or Kuala Lumpur do?

First of all, recognise that this is not an even-sided conflict. It is massively asymmetrical.  Unlike Israelis, Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have no bomb shelters or sophisticated missile defence systems. They have no drones or fighter aircraft. In Gaza especially, which has been described as an open-air prison, people not only have nowhere to go; they rarely even have electricity, potable water or food nowadays due to the Israeli siege of Gaza that has been going on, and deepening, since 2016.

Second:  voice your anger and concern to family, friends, neighbours, and elected representatives. Let Palestinians tell their own story. Share the music of Shai Zaqtan of Nai Barghouti and others. Post your outrage on social media and make it visible in street protests. As the corona lockdown eases in many parts of the world, speak to others, including at community centres and in places of worship.

Finally, do what you can in your individual and professional capacity to support the Palestinian call for #BDS = Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.

Update: Since the article was initially drafted, the United Nations and Save the Children reported that “58 children[i] in Gaza and two children in southern Israel have been killed in the last week. More than a thousand people in Gaza, including 366 children, have also been injured.” Source, OCHA. At the time of the “ceasefire” on 20 May 2021, this figure was revised to “at least 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, who have been killed in the Israeli bombardment. On the Israeli side, 12 people, including two children have been killed.”

Opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the ISS or members of the Bliss team.

About the author:

Jeff Handmaker

Jeff Handmaker is a senior researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) and focuses on legal mobilisation.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.