Israel/ OPT: Amnesty staff member faces punitive travel ban for human rights work

The Israeli authorities’ decision to prevent an Amnesty International staff member from travelling abroad for “security reasons”, apparently as a punitive measure against the organization’s human rights work, is another chilling indication of Israel’s growing intolerance of critical voices, Amnesty International said today.

Laith Abu Zeyad, Amnesty International’s Campaigner on Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), was stopped at the Allenby/King Hussein crossing between Jordan and the Israeli-occupied West Bank on 26 October while on his way to attend a relative’s funeral. He was kept waiting for four hours before being informed he has been banned from travelling by Israeli intelligence for undisclosed “security reasons”. 

“The Israeli authorities’ claim that they have security reasons for banning Laith Abu Zeyad from travelling is totally absurd. Their failure to provide any details to justify the ban reveals its true intent. This is a sinister move imposed as punishment for his work defending human rights of Palestinians,” said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International. 

“As well as violating Laith’s rights to freedom of movement and association, this travel ban further illustrates the Israeli authorities’ chilling resolve to silence human rights organizations and activists who are critical of the government. It also highlights the cruel and inhuman nature of their policies.”

This is a sinister move imposed as punishment for his work defending human rights of Palestinians
Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International

Laith Abu Zeyad was previously denied a humanitarian permit to enter Israel from the occupied West Bank in September to accompany his mother for chemotherapy treatment in Jerusalem. The permit regime requires all Palestinian residents of the OPT to obtain an entry permit in order to enter Israel, including East Jerusalem, for any reason, including work, medical care and family visits.

As well as cruelly infringing on his family life, these arbitrary travel restrictions are interfering with his human rights work, as they will prevent him from entering East Jerusalem and Israel or travelling abroad for essential activities, including advocacy at the UN and other international organizations and participation in conferences and other events. 

“The Israeli authorities must immediately lift arbitrary travel bans on Laith Abu Zeyad and all other Palestinian human rights defenders who are being punished for daring to speak out about Israel’s systematic discrimination and human rights violations against Palestinians,” said Kumi Naidoo.

The Israeli authorities must immediately lift arbitrary travel bans on Laith Abu Zeyad and all other Palestinian human rights defenders who are being punished for daring to speak out about Israel’s systematic discrimination and human rights violations against Palestinians
Kumi Naidoo

Israel has a track record of using arbitrary travel bans to harass and intimidate human rights defenders and peaceful activists. Omar Barghouti a co-founder of the BDS movement, has been repeatedly and arbitrarily banned from travel since 2016. Shawan Jabarin, Director of Palestinian rights organization al-Haq, has also faced an arbitrary and punitive travel ban.

According to international human rights standards, restrictions on the right to freedom of movement may only be imposed exceptionally, and must be necessary for a legitimate purpose, proportionate and based on clear legal grounds. The reasons must be made clear, and the restrictions should be open to legal challenge.

The refusal of the Israeli authorities to make public any evidence to substantiate the reasons for this travel ban means Laith Abu Zeyad has also been denied a meaningful opportunity to challenge the ban in court.

Background

Laith Abu Zeyad has been granted three permits to enter Israel, each lasting for six months, since he began working with Amnesty International in November 2017. The last of these three permits was valid from 20 November 2018 to 12 May 2019.

On 8 September 2019, Laith Abu Zeyad applied for a humanitarian permit at al-Zaytoona military checkpoint (Hazatem) to accompany his mother for medical treatment in Jerusalem. His application was denied on the same day based on “security reasons” without any further explanation.

On 13 June 2018, Laith Abu Zeyad was among those arbitrarily detained and tortured by Palestinian security forces, during a crackdown on a demonstration organized by Palestinian activists in Ramallah demanding that the Ramallah-based Palestinian authorities lift the sanctions imposed on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. He had been apprehended and attacked by two security officials in civilian clothes on his way to monitor the demonstration.

In recent years, Israeli authorities have dramatically intensified their intimidation of civil society organizations and their staff in Israel and the OPT. Civil society are facing continuing attacks, through restrictive legislation and governmental policies coupled with smear campaigns aimed at delegitimizing human rights work. Last month, Israeli forces raided the offices of Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, a Palestinian human rights organization. The Israeli Supreme Court also heard an appeal against a government decision to revoke the work permit of Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine Director, Omar Shakir, paving the way for his deportation.