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Advocating for human rights in the Occupied Territories

HaMoked, a PC(USA) global partner, promotes the enforcement of humanitarian measures

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

A portion of the Separation Barrier in Bethlehem (Photo by Kathy Melvin)

LOUISVILLE — Under the often-crushing weight of Israeli sanctions, HaMoked advocates for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.

A global partner of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a non-governmental organization, HaMoked: Center for Defence of the Individual, was founded in 1988 following the outbreak of the first Intifada, a sustained series of Palestinian protests in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and within Israel, from December 1987 to September 1993.

Then called the Hotline for Victims of Violence, it was created to address the issues of Palestinians injured as a result of the “broken bones” policy, under which Israel’s former defense minister, Yitzhak Rabin, issued orders to army commanders to break the bones of Palestinian protesters. Today, the policy has evolved to specifically target the knees and legs of Palestinian youth in order to disable them.

HaMoked means “hotline” in Hebrew.

Over time, people began approaching the organization with additional complaints, leading HaMoked to expand its efforts to address human rights violations. It now promotes the enforcement of the standards and values of international humanitarian and human rights law.

HaMoked has a staff of 30, both Jewish and Palestinian. Among them are individuals who maintain direct contact with complainants, client-advocacy staff responsible for communicating with the authorities and tracking the progress of complaints. HaMoked also employs a legal team as well as others doing research and record and data maintenance.

Since its inception, HaMoked has handled some 100,000 complaints on a wide variety of issues.

“Supporting the work of Israeli human rights organizations such as HaMoked is an important aspect of World Mission’s commitment to peace and justice in Israel and Palestine,” said Luciano Kovacs, World Mission’s area coordinator for the Middle East and Europe. “It is essential that such Israeli organizations work to challenge the military occupation in the West Bank and its cruel practices such as home demolitions. HaMoked has successfully petitioned and argued in the High Court of Justice to prevent some home demolitions, which they maintain are collective punishment.”

Jessica Montell, who for almost two decades headed B’Tselem–The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, another PC(USA) partner, is now the executive director of HaMoked, an organization she helped found.

Victor Makari, PC(USA) Regional Liaison for Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Egypt, has worked with Montell for many years. In a communication to the Israel Palestine Mission Network, he encouraged the partnership between World Mission and HaMoked and Montell.

“We have known Jessica, the depth of her insights into various aspects of the Israeli Occupation, the quality of her leadership, and the trustworthiness of her commitment and her integrity for over 25 years,” he wrote. “It was out of the depth of Jessica’s experience with B’Tselem that HaMoked came into being, to deal with the issues of prisoners (adults and youth) one individual at a time, and thus make a slow but certain dent into that aspect of the Occupation.  And with excellent results.”

Jessica Montell is executive director of HaMoked. (Contributed photo)

In the organization’s recently released annual report, Montell reported that HaMoked assisted 4,051 individuals in 2020, and conducted principled litigation with the expressed goal of seeking wider respect for rights.

“Notably, we continued to lead the battle against Israel’s punitive home demolition policy, successfully canceling two demolitions,” she wrote. “We sought greater respect for the rights of Palestinian minors in Israeli detention and petitioned the High Court of Justice to demand that the military stop arresting teenagers from their homes in the middle of the night. We challenged restrictions on access to the lands behind the Separation Barrier, and petitioned the High Court demanding that Israel dismantle a segment of the barrier that cuts off three communities’ access to their farmlands.”

Since constructing the Separation Barrier inside the West Bank in the early 2000s, Israel has imposed a strict permit process to access the lands between the barrier and the Green Line. Palestinians who want to travel there for any reason, including to maintain their own farmlands, must apply for a military permit. In September 2019, the military introduced a new policy, so that the few farmers who managed to obtain permits would  be allowed to enter for a maximum of 40 days each year.

HaMoked challenged this prohibition before the High Court of Justice. Following HaMoked’s petition, in October 2020 the military decided to cancel the policy.

In HaMoked’s recent report, Montell also talked about the additional challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting restrictions.

“In the occupied Palestinian territories, the pandemic exacerbated existing problems, and those of us working to promote Palestinian rights faced even greater challenges than usual. Added to this was the threat of formal Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank. This led, in May 2020, to a freeze in coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, creating additional problems for Palestinians’ daily lives.  As if this were not enough, public hostility towards our work continued to grow, and HaMoked faced increasing harassment from Israeli ultra-nationalists throughout the year.”

One of the restrictions she referenced was introduced in late February 2020. It prevented all prison visits by detainees’ attorneys and families. For the 4,000 Palestinian “security prisoners,” this meant complete isolation from the outside world. Generally, detainees are not allowed to make phone calls while in prison. No exceptions were made for minor detainees, who can be as young as 12. In April, HaMoked petitioned the High Court of Justice, demanding that all Palestinian detainees and especially children be given regular access to phone calls until in-person visits are reinstated.

The work is ongoing.

HaMoked is funded entirely by institutions and individuals in Europe, the United States and Israel who are dedicated to the universal principles of human rights and ensuring that Palestinians have access to those rights.

Learn more about HaMoked here.

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