This year, International Human Rights Day marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an important document that proclaimed the inalienable rights which everyone is entitled to as human beings – regardless of race, religion, nationality or any other characteristic or status. International Human Rights Day has become an international day observed every year on December 10th – the date the UN General Assembly adopted the declaration in 1948. The principles enshrined in the Declaration are as relevant today as they were then. But, in Israel and the occupied territories, there are frequent and serious violations of human rights – those of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, of Palestinian Israelis, of migrant workers, and of refugees.
To mark International Human Rights Day this year, we spoke with some of the activists and staff from NIF-supported organizations, who are at the forefront of the battle for human rights in Israel and the occupied territories.
Huda Abu-Obeid, Intake Coordinator, Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement
Q: What does Gisha do to promote human rights in Israel and the occupied territories?
A: For more than 25 years, Israel has severely restricted the movement of Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip. As a result, other fundamental rights are also violated, such as the right to life, the right to adequate medical care, the right to education, the right to exist with dignity, the right to family integrity, and the right to freedom of worship.
On the legal level, Gisha represents individuals and organizations whose rights have been violated before state authorities and courts. On the public level, we work with the general public and opinion-makers, decision-makers and organizations operating in the field, through publications, research and analysis, in order to increase awareness of what is happening in the Gaza Strip and to encourage sensitivity towards human rights violations in the occupied territories. Gisha also appeals directly to decision-makers and senior officials to promote policies that adequately support human rights.
Q: How did you get involved in Gisha and what motivates you to do the work you do?
A: Since 2015, I have been working as an Intake Coordinator in the legal department of Gisha. I am one of four coordinators in the organization. I receive requests from Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip whose right to movement is violated every day, as a result of the closure imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip. I try to help them realize their right to movement for necessary needs, within the framework and criteria dictated by the IDF. The main thing that motivates me in the work I do and makes me come to work every day, which is an hour and a half drive in each direction, is the knowledge that there is no other body or organization dealing with freedom of movement for Palestinians in Gaza. They are one of the world’s weakest populations, and don’t have anyone else to turn to for the most basic rights. Additionally, I feel motivated by the connection I have created with the population in the Gaza Strip, to whom I feel obligated.
Adv. Shlomi Zachary, Advocate, Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights
Q: What does Yesh Din do to promote human rights in Israel and the occupied territories?
A: Yesh Din is an organization based on volunteers and activists from various fields who seek to provide legal protection to Palestinians in the occupied territories, relating to human rights violations committed against them. The Palestinians are a population under occupation which lacks civil and political rights. This leads in a structured manner to a weakening population, especially as a large number of the attacks are done against a backdrop of, or under the cover of, security incidents.
Yesh Din assists victims of crimes, with an emphasis on violent crimes committed by Israelis against Palestinians, filing complaints with investigating authorities, and accompanying the investigation and supervision procedures to ensure they meet international standards. Additionally, Yesh Din provides legal aid and protection to Palestinians who are expelled from their lands or private property or whose human rights are violated as a result of the Israeli presence in the West Bank. In particular, there are many instances of a conscious lack of law enforcement. The exposure of wide-ranging human rights violations, of a weakened population without access to the centers of Israeli power and decision-making, is intended to expose harmful and discriminatory practices, and to change them through various legal and public tools.
Q: How did you get involved in Yesh Din and what motivates you to do the work you do?
A: Yesh Din is an organization that relies on law as the driving force in its work. The organization’s outlook is that there exists an obligation to enforce the law. This has always served as a moral compass for us. For me, even when I studied law at university, international law was always the most fascinating legal field. This field has been the most dynamic in recent years. It also allows universal values to permeate daily life, especially in the area of human rights law.
The ability to use various legal tools, together with the desire to prevent injustices, has led me to work in the field of human rights law and humanitarian law in armed conflict zones in particular.
In Yesh Din, I found an endless commitment to prevent human rights violations using a variety of tools, first and foremost in the legal field, and a strong desire to document and improve the painful reality of those who often have no voice, and whose fate and future is being taken out of their hands.