Israel/OPT: Amnesty submits new petition to overturn staff member’s punitive travel ban

Amnesty International today submitted a new petition to overturn a cruel travel ban imposed by the Israeli authorities on one of its staff members, Laith Abu Zeyad, a campaigner and Palestinian living in the occupied West Bank.

Amnesty learnt on 1 February 2021 that the Jerusalem District Court had dismissed its November 2020 petition accepting the secret information by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a unit of the Israeli Ministry of Defense.

Laith Abu Zeyad has been barred from travelling abroad by the Israeli authorities since October 2019 for unspecified “security reasons”.

“Israel has been barring Laith Abu Zeyad’s access to our office in occupied East Jerusalem and banning him from travelling internationally for work or for personal reasons for over a year now. The ban prevented him from being with his mother in hospital before she died. This is nothing short of a targeted attack and reveals the chilling extent of measures by Israel to silence human rights defenders and organizations critical of its treatment of Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank,” said Saleh Higazi, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Israel’s continued attempts to punish Laith Abu Zeyad for his human rights work are a flagrant violation of his rights
Saleh Higazi, Amnesty International

“The Israeli authorities’ claims that Laith Abu Zeyad poses a security threat are completely unfounded and are based on secret information held by the Israel Security Agency that neither he nor his lawyer can see. This Kafkaesque situation which blatantly violates fair trial standards has been accepted without challenge by Israeli courts. This oppression cannot continue and must be condemned by the international community in the strongest terms.”

“Israel’s continued attempts to punish Laith Abu Zeyad for his human rights work are a flagrant violation of his rights.  Israeli authorities are determined to obstruct our work, but they are mistaken to believe this matter will simply go away. We will continue to challenge this absurd ban against our colleague and friend and highlight the human rights violations taking place in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

Background

In September 2019, Laith Abu Zeyad applied for a humanitarian permit at al-Zaytoona military checkpoint (Hazatem) near Jerusalem 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.

In December 2019, Laith Abu Zeyad was banned from visiting his mother in a nearby Jerusalem hospital, who was suffering from cancer, and as a result he did not get the opportunity to see her before her death.

In May 2020, a Jerusalem District Court judge heard Amnesty’s petition to lift the unlawful travel ban against Laith Abu Zeyad but accepted the Israeli Security Agency’s unfounded assertion that he is a security risk, effectively rubber stamping the ban. Laith Abu Zeyad was denied a special permit to attend his hearing but was represented by his lawyer, Tamir Blank. The information the authorities provided to the court against him was kept secret and could not be challenged. His lawyer and observers from Amnesty International and diplomatic missions were required to leave the court room when the authorities presented the secret information to the judge.

In 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.