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Amnesty International Staffer Challenges Israel’s Travel Ban

New Government Should End Assault on Rights Advocacy

Laith Abu Zeyad, a campaigner for Amnesty International, in front of Israel’s separation barrier in Jerusalem. © 2020 Private

Amnesty International will soon challenge in a Jerusalem court a travel ban that the Israeli government imposed on its campaigner for Israel and Palestine, Laith Abu Zeyad. The hearing is slated for May 31.

Six months ago today, the Israeli government deported me over my human rights advocacy.

As a Palestinian from the West Bank, Abu Zeyad must obtain an Israeli-issued permit to enter significant parts of the West Bank under Israeli control, including East Jerusalem, and Israel itself. Yet Palestinians applying for permits face what the Israeli rights group B’Tselem describes as an “arbitrary, entirely non-transparent bureaucratic system.” Most can travel abroad only by land via Jordan through the Israeli-controlled Allenby Crossing.

Israeli authorities denied Abu Zeyad a permit in September 2019 to enter occupied East Jerusalem, where he had hoped to accompany his mother, who needed cancer treatment, to a hospital just three kilometers from his home but on the other side of the separation barrier. She died there in December without her son by her side.

In October 2019, Israeli authorities at the Allenby Crossing barred Abu Zeyad from traveling to Jordan to attend a relative’s funeral, citing undisclosed “security reasons,” despite his never having been convicted for a security offense.

Authorities provided no further information and designated the evidence as “secret,” meaning even his attorney will not be able to see it in court.

And of course, without a permit to enter Jerusalem, Abu Zeyad cannot attend his own court hearing.

Israel’s efforts to muzzle human rights work provide plenty of reason to be skeptical about the basis for the ban. Authorities in recent years imposed travel bans on, raided the offices of, and arrested Palestinian rights defenders. They also denied entry to international human rights activists, and have made it more difficult for Israeli advocacy groups to operate, with senior officials even branding them as “traitors” and “collaborators.”

New Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, who warned in his campaign that the previous government’s attacks on independent institutions jeopardized the country’s future, can signal a new direction by lifting Abu Zeyad’s travel ban. He is empowered to do so as he holds the defense portfolio.

Israel’s international friends should also find their voice. A government that kicks out a Human Rights Watch director and bans an Amnesty International campaigner from traveling without disclosing the reasons will not hesitate to go after others, much less end systematic rights abuse, unless there is greater global pressure.

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