Israel’s high court orders expulsion of Omar Shakir

Man wearing suit and tie in court

Israel’s high court upholds the expulsion of Human Rights Watch’s Jerusalem director Omar Shakir. (via Facebook

Israel’s high court on Tuesday greenlit the expulsion of Omar Shakir, the director of the Jerusalem office of Human Rights Watch.

Shakir had seen his work visa revoked last year when he was ordered to leave the country over his alleged support for BDS – the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights.

Shakir, who maintains that his expulsion is a result of his human rights work, said a final decision now lies in the government’s hands.

“If it proceeds, I have 20 days to leave.”

“With this ruling, the court has made it explicitly clear that those who dare to speak out about human rights violations by the Israeli authorities will be treated as enemies of the state,” Amnesty International researcher Saleh Higazi said.

Israel’s interior minister Aryeh Deri celebrated the country’s highest court rubber-stamp of his request, describing him as “one of the leaders of the BDS movement.”

Israel’s strategic minister Gilad Erdan also applauded the high court’s decision, stating that “no sane country” would allow the stay of an activist like Shakir.

Erdan leads Israel’s campaign of smear and sabotage against human rights groups and the global Palestine solidarity movement.

Right-wing groups support expulsion

Israel’s high court heard the appeal against Shakir’s deportation in September, which was joined by Amnesty International and a group of former Israeli diplomats.

On the other side, a group of right-wing organizations had joined Israel in the case to deport Shakir.

These include Shurat HaDin, a group of Israeli lawyers who have openly acknowledged their deep and intimate ties to Israel’s spy agency, the Mossad.

They also include NGO Monitor, a group that works with the Israeli government to smear human rights defenders.

In May 2018, Israeli authorities first revoked Shakir’s work permit, citing a dossier of Shakir’s activities.

A Jerusalem court then upheld the state’s decision to cancel Shakir’s work and residency visa in April.

The strategic affairs ministry leads Israel’s well-funded effort to combat the growing global movement in support of Palestinian rights. It compiled the dossier, which it said demonstrates Shakir’s support for BDS.

One pretext cited in the dossier for expelling Shakir is that he shared on Twitter an article written by scholar Steven Salaita and published by The Electronic Intifada in 2014.

The dossier describes The Electronic Intifada as “one of the major platforms for the promotion of de-legitimation and boycott campaigns against Israel.”

Human Rights Watch said that it takes no position on the BDS movement.

“Neither HRW – nor Shakir as its representative – advocate boycott, divestment or sanctions against companies that operate in the settlements, Israel or Israelis,” HRW stated in response to Israel’s interior ministry last year.

A judge who ruled in favor of Shakir’s deportation said that “Human Rights Watch is not classified as a boycott organization – and it can request the employment of another representative who is not involved up to his neck in BDS activity.”

Solidarity with Shakir

Human rights defenders and organizations expressed their solidarity with Shakir following Tuesday’s high court order.

“The decision on Omar Shakir’s case sets an extraordinarily dangerous precedent for human rights defenders in the territories Israel occupies,” said al-Marsad, the only human rights organization on the ground in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

“As we anxiously contest similar charges against our legitimate human rights work in the occupied Golan Heights, we stand in solidarity with Human Rights Watch.”

Al-Marsad is combatting a lawsuit from Israeli renewable energy company Energix over its investigation of a wind farm the firm plans to build in the occupied Golan Heights with government backing.

Gisha, an Israeli human rights group that monitors freedom of movement, meanwhile said the high court’s ruling is “another stab in a broader attack by Israel against freedom of expression and advocacy for Palestinian rights.”

The organization Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor also condemned the high court’s decision.

Cracking down on rights workers

Meanwhile, Israel is barring an Amnesty staff member from traveling abroad for undisclosed “security reasons.”

Israeli security stopped Laith Abu Zeyad on 26 October at the Allenby Bridge separating the occupied West Bank from Jordan. He was on his way to attend a relative’s funeral. He was told that Israeli intelligence would not allow him to leave the country.

Amnesty called Israel’s decision a “totally absurd” measure against the organization’s humanitarian work.

“Their failure to provide any details to justify the ban reveals its true intent,” Kumi Naidoo, secretary general of Amnesty, stated.

“This is a sinister move imposed as punishment for his work defending human rights of Palestinians.”

Israel previously denied Abu Zeyad a permit to accompany his mother to a chemotherapy session in Jerusalem.

Israel’s travel restrictions against Abu Zeyad are not only “cruelly infringing on his family life,” Amnesty said, but also deliberately interfering with his human rights work by preventing him from traveling between the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, as well as inside Israel.

It will also prevent him from participating in conferences abroad, including advocacy work at the United Nations.

Shakir’s imminent deportation comes in the context of a larger state-led campaign to muzzle dissent.

Israel’s interior ministry recently announced that it was moving to revoke residency status from and deport Palestinian activist and co-founder of BDS Omar Barghouti.

Human rights group Al-Haq said this places Barghouti at the “imminent threat of deportation.”

“I plan to act quickly to revoke Omar Barghouti’s resident status in Israel,” Deri recently stated.

Israel’s interior ministry recently acknowledged that it has revoked the residency status of 13 Palestinians on the basis of “breach of allegiance” to Israel, according to Al-Haq.

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If Shakir hasn’t supported BDS so far, he certainly should now.

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