We are writing to protest the arbitrary travel restrictions that your government has placed on Mr. Shawan Jabarin, the General Director of the Ramallah-based human rights organization, Al Haq. Over the past year, beginning on March 23, 2006, Israeli security officials have refused on several occasions to allow Mr. Jabarin to make trips abroad, in response to invitations from international organizations, for professional purposes. Our organization works closely with Al Haq, and with Mr. Jabarin in particular. We regard him, as do many other international and regional human rights organizations, as one of the most professional and accomplished human rights activists in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We ask that you take steps to ensure that your government removes these restrictions without delay.

March 11, 2007

His Excellency Ehud Olmert
Prime Minister
3 Kaplan St.
Hakirya
Jerusalem 91919

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

We are writing to protest the arbitrary travel restrictions that your government has placed on Mr. Shawan Jabarin, the General Director of the Ramallah-based human rights organization, Al Haq. Over the past year, beginning on March 23, 2006, Israeli security officials have refused on several occasions to allow Mr. Jabarin to make trips abroad, in response to invitations from international organizations, for professional purposes. Our organization works closely with Al Haq, and with Mr. Jabarin in particular. We regard him, as do many other international and regional human rights organizations, as one of the most professional and accomplished human rights activists in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We ask that you take steps to ensure that your government removes these restrictions without delay.

Since 1999 and prior to March 23, 2006, Mr. Jabarin traveled abroad on eight different occasions. In February 2006, the authorities permitted Mr. Jabarin to leave the West Bank and travel abroad. One of these trips was to attend a conference in Morocco. On that occasion the authorities responded that their inspection raised no concerns that might justify preventing Mr. Jabarin from traveling.

Although nothing in Mr. Jabarin’s circumstances has changed since that time, when he attempted to cross from the West Bank to Jordan on March 23, 2006, the authorities there issued him a police order to present himself three days later, on March 26, at the Etsion Liaison Office, which is between Hebron and Bethlehem. Mr. Jabarin appeared at Etsion at the specified time on March 26, where he was made to wait outside for four hours in uncomfortably cold weather. At that point, when he refused to comply with what he regarded as a humiliating request to strip the clothes from his torso before entering the compound, an Israeli official told him to go home but refused to return his identification documents. Without such documents, as you know, Palestinian residents of the West Bank cannot legally travel even within that territory. Despite repeated efforts to retrieve his ID, Israeli authorities returned it to him only in July 2006, with the assistance of the Israeli human rights organization HaMoked.

In October 2006, Israeli authorities again refused to grant Mr. Jabarin permission to travel to attend a conference in Spain. Yet again, in December 2006, the authorities denied him permission to attend a conference in Egypt organized by the Christian Aid organization. Mr. Jabarin filed an appeal in response to this denial, and the Israeli High Court rejected his request, apparently based on submissions from the authorities that neither Mr. Jabarin nor his counsel were permitted to see.

Mr. Prime Minister, under the circumstances it appears that the government’s repeated refusal to allow Mr. Jabarin to travel abroad constitutes an arbitrary and unlawful infringement on his right to freedom of movement, including the right to leave his own country, which is guaranteed in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Israel ratified in 1991. Although human rights law permits restrictions on freedom of movement for security reasons, the restrictions must have a clear legal basis, be limited to what is necessary, and be proportionate to the threat. As stated by the United Nations Human Rights Committee in its General Comment 27, any limits on freedom of movement cannot reverse the relation between right and restriction, between norm and exception.

Such restrictions are particularly egregious when applied against the leader of a prominent human rights organization and who is himself recognized widely for his record in defending and promoting human rights in a scrupulous and impartial manner. Restrictions such as those imposed on Mr. Jabarin unfairly and arbitrarily impair his ability and the ability of his organization to raise in international forums human rights concerns in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

For this reason, we reiterate our request that you take immediate steps to ensure that these restrictions against Mr. Jabarin are lifted immediately. Mr. Jabarin has been invited to travel to Geneva to the Human Rights Council from March 18-30 and to the Congress of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) in Portugal on April 19. We urge you to guarantee that he is able to attend these important professional events.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Sarah Leah Whitson
Executive Director
Middle East and North Africa division