Open letter to Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs
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Open letter to Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The Honorable Baroness Catherine Ashton
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Vice President of the European Commission

Subject: EU action to end repression of Palestinian human rights defenders by Israel

Dear Baroness Ashton,

On the occasion of your first visit to Palestine, the undersigned organizations request your personal commitment to more effective action by the European Union to end the ongoing Israeli repression of human rights defenders (HRD) in Palestine, in particular those engaged in human rights activities and advocacy against the Wall Israel continues to construct illegally in the occupied West Bank.

Repression of HRD by Israel is an ongoing and growing phenomenon. The last two days alone saw:

* The arrest of Omar Ala ed Din, 25, a HRD from al Ma’sara (Bethlehem district) at the “container” checkpoint near Jerusalem on 15 March and of Mohammad Atta, 17, from his hometown Ni’lin on 16 March. Omar and Mohammad’s arrests bring the total number of HRDs active against the Wall and currently held in Israeli prisons to approximately 103. The undersigned organizations expect more arrests in the Bethlehem area in the coming weeks. Moreover, the organizations are strongly concerned with the treatment of Palestinian HRD in Israeli detention and before the Israeli military court system. Since 1967, the Israeli military courts in the occupied Palestinian territory have failed to meet international fair trial standards, and act in all cases in the interests of the occupying power and the military security apparatus.

* The publication of an Israeli closure order issued against the lands between the Wall and the built up areas in Ni’lin and Bil’in villages (Ramallah district), declaring the areas closed military zones on Fridays between 8am – 8pm for the next six months. The decree announcing the order, which was issued on 17 February 2010, was posted in the villages during night raids on March 15. This closure violates the protestors’ right to freedom of peaceful assembly enshrined in international human rights law, and compounds a recently introduced de facto Israeli policy to bar media and international observers from entering Bil’in and Ni’lin villages during the weekly Friday protests. The undersigned organizations fear more arrests and violence in the villages as a result of this order.

* Little or no improvement in the condition of Ehab Barghouti, a 14-year-old boy from Nabi Saleh village near Ramallah who remains in critical condition after being shot in the head with a rubber-coated steel bullet by the Israeli military on 5 March 2010. Ehab’s case is far from unique: of the 16 Wall HRD killed since 2002, half were under the age of 18. The undersigned organizations fear this event will mark an increase in the use of violence against the village – when Israeli forces killed a 10-year-old boy in Ni’lin following a weekly protest against the Wall in July 2008, this incident started a period of escalating violence by Israeli soldiers and further killings in the village.

The undersigned organizations are grateful that the EU and its Member States have shown concrete support for Palestinian human rights defenders in recent months by attending military court hearings of HRD detained by Israel, and by conducting field visits to villages active against the Wall. However, while these measures have led to positive results in specific cases and occasions, they have not impacted in terms of contributing to an end of the Israeli repression of HRD.

We therefore request that you:

* Issue a presidential statement condemning the repression of HRD by Israel;
* Ensure that, in line with the EU Guidelines for the Protection of HRDs, current EU action in Palestine continues, is institutionalized and is expanded, including public statements;
* Raise the repression of HRDs with your Israeli counterparts;
* Raise the continued, illegal construction of the Wall with your Israeli counterparts; and,
* Refuse to negotiate a new Action Plan with Israel, as this would contradict the stipulations within the previous plan as well as Article 2 of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, and instead push for the suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement.

HRD are internationally recognized as an essential element of peace-building processes and their repression further underlines Israeli unwillingness to achieve a just peace. Only if the European Union makes a serious commitment to effectively promote human rights, international law and the protection of HRD, will it able to contribute to a just peace in the region.

Kind regards,

Jamal Juma’
Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign

Sahar Francis
General Director
Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association

Khalil Abu Shammala
General Director
Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights-Gaza

Rifat Kassis
Defence for Children International – Palestine Section (DCI-Palestine)

Shawan Jabarin
General Director