On 15 February 2021, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Man, and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights sent a joint submission to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Ms. Irene Khan, in response to a call for inputissued ahead of her upcoming annual thematic report on disinformation and freedom of opinion and expression, which will be presented to the Human Rights Council at its 47thRegular Session in June 2021.

Mindful of the legal obligations of Israel, the Occupying Power, the submission aimed to address and document Israel’s attacks on Palestinian civil society organisations and human rights defenders, including the systematic smear and disinformation campaigns that, inter alia, violate the right to freedom of opinion and expression and ultimately aim to silence opposition to its unlawful policies and practises and maintain its apartheid regime.

The joint submission highlighted Israeli-conducted recent attacks on Palestinian human rights defenders, which included arbitrary arrests, travel bans, and residency revocations, as well as attacks on Palestinian human rights organisations, including raids. The submission further underlined how the Israeli government, through its Ministry of Strategic Affairs and in coordination with government-operated non-governmental organisations, has been leading a systematic, carefully orchestrated, and institutionalised smear disinformation campaign against Palestinian human rights organisations and defenders, in an attempt to shrink civil society space, delegitimise, oppress, and dominate them.

Given Israel’s prevailing culture of impunity, the submission reasserted the need to finally address Israel’s apartheid regime as the root causes of Israel’s systematic human rights violations including those with regards to human rights defenders and civil society organisations. Accordingly,the joint submission offered Special Rapporteur Khan the following recommendations:

  1. Examine Israel, as Occupying Power, and the manner in which it spreads fake news and false information about human rights organisations and defenders both online, including on social media platforms, and offline, particularly through its Ministry of Strategic Affairs and government-affiliated organisations; and include the results of such examinations in the Special Rapporteur’s annual thematic report to be presented to the Human Rights Council at its 47th session in June 2021;
  2. Urge Israel to immediately and unconditionally cease any and all practices and policies intended to harass, intimidate and silence human rights defenders and organisations, not only through disinformation campaigns, but also through arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment, institutionalised hate speech and incitement, residency revocation, deportations, and other coercive or punitive measures;
  3. Publicly call for international justice and accountability for Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity, including its apartheid regime, by publicly supporting the recent decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC,[1]and urging the Prosecutor to immediately begin, without any further delay, a full, thorough, and comprehensive ICC investigation into the Situation in the State of Palestine. Specifically call on third States to comply with their humanitarian law obligations under Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and Rome Statute obligations to fully cooperate with the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court;
  4. Engage with online platforms such as Facebook to ensure that posts containing death threats and misinformation about human rights defenders are removed and that Facebook and other online platforms adhere to their human rights responsibilities; and
  5. Highlight the root causes underpinning Israel’s disinformation campaign and quashing of the freedom of opinion and expression in the OPT, and call for an end to the 13-year land and naval closure of the Gaza Strip, an end to the 53-year occupation of the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, and an end to the 72-year apartheid on both sides of the Green Line.

[1]Al-Haq, “Landmark Decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court Welcomed by Human Rights Organizations, 6 February 2021, available at: https://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/17878.html.