A Palestinian human rights campaigner struck with a travel ban by Israel has described the government’s rationale as “completely false and ridiculous”, terming the move “punitive measure” against the work of his employers Amnesty International.
Laith Abu Zeyad, who works as Amnesty’s campaigner on Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, was stopped by Israeli authorities at the King Hussein/Allenby border crossing on October 26 while on his way to attend a relative’s funeral in Jordan.
After being held for four hours, he was told he was banned from travelling abroad for what Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, called “serious security considerations”.
“The Israeli authorities’ decision… is another chilling indication of Israel’s growing intolerance of critical voices,” Abu Zeyad told Al Jazeera from the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.
While the Shin Bet denied its verdict has anything to do with Amnesty’s work, Abu Zeyad said the failure to provide any details of the security concerns demonstrated the arbitrariness of its decision.
“The refusal of Israeli authorities to make public any evidence to substantiate the reasons for this travel ban means that I also have been denied a meaningful opportunity to challenge the ban in court,” he said.
Kumi Naidoo, the secretary-general of Amnesty International, called the travel ban “a sinister move imposed as punishment for [Abu Zeyad’s] work defending human rights of Palestinians”.
“As well as violating Laith’s rights to freedom of movement and association, this travel ban further illustrates the Israeli authorities’ chilling resolve to silence human rights organisations and activists who are critical of the government,” Naidoo said in a statement on Thursday.
“It also highlights the cruel and inhuman nature of their policies.”
Abu Zeyad was also denied an Israeli military-issued permit to enter occupied East Jerusalem last September.
His application for a humanitarian permit to accompany his mother for her chemotherapy treatment in a Jerusalem hospital was rejected the same day on the basis of “security reasons”. No additional information was provided.
“As well as cruelly infringing on my family life, the arbitrary travel restrictions are interfering with my human rights work, as they will prevent me from travelling abroad or entering East Jerusalem, where one of our offices is located,” he said.
This also inhibits his advocacy work at the United Nations and other international organisations, he added.
While such travel bans can be challenged in Israeli courts, the process is more often long and arduous and the bans are usually upheld.
Abu Zeyad is not the first to be targeted by Israel for his human rights work. According to Amnesty, Israeli authorities in recent years have “dramatically intensified their intimidation of civil society organisations and their staff in Israel and the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories]”.
“Civil society are facing continuing attacks, through restrictive legislation and governmental policies coupled with smear campaigns aimed at delegitimising human rights work,” Amnesty said.
Other Palestinians, including director of rights group Al Haq, Shawan Jabarin, and the founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Omar Barghouti, have also been previously banned from travelling abroad.
Meanwhile, Omar Shakir, head of Human Rights Watch in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel, is currently facing a deportation order for what Israel says is his support for promoting boycotts of Israel.
HRW and Amnesty have maintained this was another way for Israel to silence criticism of itself.