In an unprecedented move, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has decided to stop issuing visas for foreign nationals employed by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). OHCHR has been operating in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) since 1996. In light of Israel’s complete control over entry to the Occupied Territory, OHCHR staff require visas issued by Israel.
On Tuesday, 20 October 2020, 17 human rights and civil society organizations in Israel sent a letter to Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gabi Ashkenazi, demanding that the measures implemented by the ministry against OHCHR staff be reversed and that the issuance of visas be renewed in order to enable the office’s ongoing work. The organizations that sent the letter are: Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Amnesty International Israel, Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights, Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research, Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Emek Shaveh, Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, HaMoked – Center for the Defence of the Individual, Haqel – In Defense of Human Rights, Ir Amim - For an Equitable and Stable Jerusalem with an Agreed Political Future, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, Rabbis for Human Rights, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Torat Tzedek – Torah of Justice, and Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights.
In the letter, the organizations emphasize that the Israeli government’s actions, designed to silence criticism over grave and widespread human rights violations in the oPt, will not succeed: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, and other Israeli bodies have been conducting a targeted campaign – both overt and covert – of defamation, denunciation, and expulsion against Palestinian, Israeli, and international organizations and activists working to expose the truth about Israel’s policy in the oPt. As part of this smear campaign, these bodies have voiced false allegations of anti-Semitism, aiding terrorism, and a host of other lies to silence criticism and enable Israel’s continued occupation, oppression and dispossession of Palestinians without being held accountable for its actions. […] The severance of ties with OHCHR and the refusal to renew its staff’s visas undermine the UN High Commissioner’s work in the region and violate Israel’s obligation, under the UN charter, to cooperate with its agencies […] These censorship attempts are bound to fail: They will not succeed in hiding the implications of Israel’s policy and the human rights violations it commits in the oPt, nor will they silence or hinder us, our work, or that of our colleagues.”