Governmental Attempts to Narrow the Space in which Human Rights Groups Operate
While the Israeli government's attitude toward human rights groups that provide assistance to Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territory has always been ambivalent, until recently, human rights groups in Israel could operate with relative freedom. Freedom of speech and association were relatively protected, and we interacted on a professional level with military and government authorities through limited procedures for administrative appeal.
In recent months, however, and especially since the Israeli military operation in Gaza (December 27, 2008-January 18, 2009), the Israeli government has sought to undermine the legitimacy of human rights groups, especially those who defend human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). The Israeli Security Agency (Shin Bet or Shabac) interrogated a Palestinian citizen of Israel working at a human rights organization, warning him not to engage in "political activities" concerning Gaza; the police opened a criminal investigation and arrested staff members of an Israeli group supporting conscientious objection from military service; the government launched a public attack against a group that published testimonies of soldiers who served in the Gaza offensive, including asking European governments to stop funding the organization through their human rights programs; and police arrested and detained more than 830 protesters, especially Palestinian citizens of Israel, while protesting against the military attack on Gaza.
From September to November 2009, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories office in Gaza shunned Israeli human rights groups, refusing to respond to appeals on behalf of Gaza residents seeking exit permits, even in dire humanitarian circumstances, until heavy pressure was exerted by the international community and the State Attorney's office. Sporadic refusal to respond to human rights groups representing Palestinian residents continues.
In February 2010, Israeli lawmakers voted to establish a parliamentary sub-committee to "investigate" human rights groups in Israel which are supported by the New Israel Fund. Although no such committee has been formed, the pretext for this investigation is that the groups provided information to the Goldstone Fact-Finding Mission, which inquired into the Israeli military operation in Gaza. Government spokespersons have given interviews in the media calling human rights groups "a strategic threat", casting them as traitors and spreading misinformation about their activities.
We are witnessing an unprecedented attempt to interfere with the activities of Israeli human rights groups. These governmental attempts to narrow the space in which human rights groups in Israel operate form the context for a number of proposed laws.