Defending the defenders
Originally published in November 2019.
In January 2018, Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry released a list to the Israeli press of 20 organisations which it considered banned, barring their senior representatives from entering the country. War on Want was one of 20 charities and international human rights organisations on the list, targeted over our outspoken support for Palestinian rights and campaigns for accountability for Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.
This ban is one piece of a much larger system of repression against human rights defenders, aimed at silencing people and groups internationally who stand up for Palestinian rights, including War on Want. But this is just a fraction of what Palestinians themselves face as they struggle for freedom and justice.
As a matter of policy, Israel prevents millions of Palestinian refugees from accessing their internationally recognised right of return to the homes from which they were expelled. Palestinian refugees are denied their return as a group. But Israel has often prevented individuals of many backgrounds from entering the country if they are suspected to be likely to speak out about what they see. The UN appointed Special Rapporteurs reporting on Israel’s occupation have been denied entry for years, forced instead to conduct their investigations from outside the country. Why? Because Israel’s government doesn’t like that they call out its systematic violations of international law.
While Palestinian refugees are barred from returning to their homes, Palestinians living under direct Israeli control, either in the occupied territory or in Israel itself, are subjected to surveillance harassment, arbitrary arrest and armed violence. Now, emboldened by a new class of powerful far-right allies around the world and the US-brokered Deal of the Century, this year has been marked by one escalation after another from the Israeli state, with a relentless push for further annexation of Palestinian land, increased building of illegal settlements, armed violence, and record-breaking numbers of home demolitions.
Palestinian human rights organisations are working in overdrive attempting to monitor these abuses and support their people, but on top of the already brutal conditions of occupation, they are being hit with smear campaigns attempting to keep their voices from being heard internationally. Palestinian human rights activists, lawyers and journalists are routinely harassed, threatened, arbitrarily arrested or prevented from traveling. Widely respected Palestinian human rights organisations are targeted by the Israeli government, their work smeared and maligned with crude disinformation campaigns aimed at convincing donors and partners in North America and Europe to cut ties with them.
Israel’s attempts to silence Palestinians and their allies are a part of a larger campaign to clamp down on human rights defenders, to make our work impossible and to isolate Palestinians from the powerful international solidarity movement that has formed in support of justice and equality.
Israel’s government is not alone in its effort to shut down dissent and crush social movements. The toxic discourse and policies of far-right leaders around the world – Modi, Bolsonaro, Trump, Mohammad bin Salman, Orban and others – seek to fuel hatred and roll back universal human rights. From India’s military lockdown of Kashmir, to engineered disasters to make way for land grabs in Brazil, the newest wave of far-right leaders and movements brazenly share notes with each other on how to best plunder, destroy and exploit.
Stand with Palestinians – today and every day
When we ask our Palestinian partner organisations how they cope, they respond clearly: Palestinians will never be bullied into silence. But they want to know that they can rely on War on Want and supporters like you to help their message of justice be heard.
We have heard our partners' call for solidarity loud and clear, and are proud to stand alongside Palestinians and echo their demands for justice here in the UK.
Israel rightly assumes that the Palestinian movement for justice benefits from support of charities, human rights organisations, and solidarity groups around the globe, who echo the Palestinian-led call for accountability. Attacking those who stand up for human rights is a way Israel tries to isolate Palestinians and to keep others from supporting them. This tactic is used by other regimes as well, and it invariably backfires as grassroots movements for justice refuse to be silenced.
Despite the unrelenting injustice they face, Palestinians continue to resist oppression, and we will continue to stand in solidarity alongside them - not just today, but every day.
So what can we do to ‘defend the defenders’?
In the face of these shameless attacks, we will not be bullied into silence, and we will do everything we can to increase our support for our partners and their crucial work. Here are the key approaches guiding our response to this global shrinking space for civil society, and the attacks on human rights defenders:
- Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Creating a distraction is part of the strategy of the attackers, so to defend our partners and allies, we must talk about the repression they face AND the important work that they do. This helps keep the work going, and provides important context as to why they’re being attacked in the first place.
- Put energy into connecting, rather than retreating inward. When governments impose travel bans, they aim to isolate social movements and cut off their international support networks. Our job in those moments is to provide as many opportunities as possible for our partners to speak, write and meet with others so that their network of support is expanded.
- Keep asking ‘how does oppression abroad relate to our systems here in the UK?’ War and repression, corporate plunder and extraction, often starts here, led by corporations with addresses right here in the UK that are profiting from land grabs, extractive mining, house demolitions or bombing civilian areas. While we support our partners in their work on the ground, we can also support them by pushing back against those here that are profiting from repression and exploitation abroad.
War on Want stands in solidarity with frontline human rights defenders across the world in their struggle for justice. War on Want depends on the support of people like you so that we can continue our work with frontline human rights defenders. Will you donate today so that we can keep fighting for justice? Thank you for standing with us.