Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

Palestinian Human Rights Activism under Israeli Occupation: The Case of Al-Haq

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

Palestinian Human Rights Activism under Israeli Occupation: The Case of Al-Haq

Article excerpt

55. Letter from Yitzhak Rabin to Jimmy Carter dated 27 October 1989. Cited in Al-Haq, A Nation Under Siege, pp. 628-629. Mr. Rabin's statement gained international exposure in a New York Times column by Anthony Lewis, "Self-Inflicted Wound," New York Times, 18 November 1989.

56. See Al-Haq, Punishing a Nation, pp. 204-205; Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, An Examination of the Detention of Human Rights Workers; and various other letters to this effect retained in the files of al-Haq.

57. Given the relative ease with which an Israeli court could convict al-Haq staff in the absence of incriminating evidence, it may appear irrational from MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN ABOUT THE SYSTEMATIC VIOLATION of Palestinian human rights by the Israeli military during the popular uprising (al-Intifada al-Sha'biyya) in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.(1) At the same time, there has been no examination of how Palestinian human rights organizations in the Occupied Territories have faced the dual challenge of increased repression and growing international concern since the uprising began in December 1987.(2) In order to shed some light on their activities, this paper examines the experiences of al-Haq, the West Bank affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ).(3)

In order to put Palestinian human rights advocacy during the uprising in proper perspective, it is first necessary to examine the development of al-Haq in the larger context of twenty-three years of Israeli military occupation. Accordingly, this paper examines the formative issues encountered by al-Haq by virtue of its existence under prolonged military occupation before dealing specifically with its experiences during the uprising.


Located in the West Bank city of Ramallah to the north of Jerusalem, al-Haq was established in 1979 by a group of Palestinian lawyers as the West Bank affiliate of the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists. Reflecting this institutional affiliation, it has throughout its existence been exclusively concerned with the promotion of the rule of law and the protection of human rights.

As the first organization of its kind in the Occupied Territories, al-Haq from the outset has been at least as involved with understanding its environment as it has been with attempting to change it. In this respect, the increasingly incomprehensible nature of the judicial system in the Occupied Territories during the 1970s was equal to its arbitrary implementation, thereby creating the need for such an organization. In an accurate reflection of these concerns, legal research, as opposed to human rights monitoring and intervention as narrowly understood, assumed pride of place during al-Haq's formative period, and to this day the organization defines itself as both a legal research and human rights organization.

Structurally, al-Haq's staff is divided into a fieldwork unit, whose members are geographically dispersed throughout the Occupied Territories to collect primary documentation about human rights abuses; a database unit, which systematizes the data collected by the fieldwork unit; a research unit, which conducts both legal and human rights research and has primary responsibility for the production of al-Haq's interventions; a library unit, which operates the only public law library in the Occupied Territories; and support staff. In addition, al-Haq maintains a field representative in London. Ongoing communications between staff, as well as between staff and administration is maintained through a weekly general meeting, during which the organization's agenda, formulated in its broad outlines by a strategic planning committee, is further defined. Given the highly interdependent nature of their work, the fieldwork and research units maintain additional links through regular meetings, the office of the fieldwork coordinator (who is resident at al-Haq), and a fieldwork liaison from within the research unit. …

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