Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

On the danger of being a human rights activist in Gaza

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It is lucky that freedom of speech is not the main selling point for Palestinian statehood because the stabbing of a human rights activist in Gaza who dared criticise the Hamas government and resistance groups would undermine the enterprise’s bona fides.

Mahmud Abu Rahma, international relations director at the al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, was “stabbed multiple times by several masked attackers on Friday evening”, according to an AFP report.

As AIJAC blogged last week, Abu Rahma had published a damning opinion piece on December 31 on the intimidation, injuries and deaths suffered by civilians in Gaza from resistance groups based in residential areas firing guns, bomb and rocket making, and training for terrorist acts. He had also criticised the Hamas government in Gaza for not protecting the rights of individuals from the activities of resistance groups.

Perversely, Abu Rahma himself has now become a victim of the corrosive phenomenon he wanted to publicise.

The knifing attack followed threats and a beating by masked men the day after the article was published. The first assault had prompted his organisation to complain to the government to protect Abu Rahma.

The Palestinian news service, Maan, which ran Abu Rahma’s original article, reported he had “received texts and phone calls threatening him because of his views”. He told Maan: "They said I am a collaborator and I should wait for my punishment, saying I must revoke what I said or else".

Intimidation, arbitrary arrest and threats of and actual acts of physical violence are a regular response meted out in Gaza and the Fatah-led West Bank for anyone daring to express a difference of opinion. Generally only high profile cases receive any publicity.

Last year, Palestinian journalist Majdoleen Hassouneh had to go into hiding because the Palestinian Authority’s security forces on the West Bank wanted to arrest her for reporting on a sit-in strike held by relatives of prisoners in West Bank jails. After she refused to report for interrogation, her two brothers were arrested.

Foreigners are not off limits either. Two recent examples include the murder last year of pro-Palestinian Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni in Gaza by an extremist Salafist group for bringing moral corruption from an “infidel state”.

Juliano Mer-Khamis, an Israeli-born director and political activist, whose mother is Jewish and father a Christian Arab, was murdered outside a theatre in Jenin on the West Bank by masked assailants in 2011, also for moral corruption.

Both men were known for their trenchant anti-Israel views.

- Allon Lee