Sahar Francis, Director of Addameer: "Israel accuses us of being terrorists because we are succeeding in exposing its crimes"
BarcelonaSahar Francis is a lawyer and since 2006 has run the Addameer Association in support of Palestinian political prisoners. The Ramallah-based organisation is dedicated to providing legal support to those imprisoned in Israeli or Palestinian National Authority facilities. On 19 October, the Israeli Ministry of Defence designated the entity as a "terrorist organisation", along with five other Palestinian entities, internationally recognised for their track record: Defense For Children International, which monitors children's rights; Al-Haq, which monitors human rights; the Bisan Center for Research and Development, dedicated to socio-cultural promotion; the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees; and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees. The Health Work Committees, to which Juana Ruiz, the Spanish aid worker imprisoned six months ago, belongs, were also banned.
All are accused of diverting sources to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the main organisation of the Palestinian left which is labelled as terrorist by Israel, the United States and the European Union. The case is in the hands of the military justice system and all proceedings are secret.
How do you cope with being declared a terrorist organisation?
— In fact, it is not a new policy. Israel has always said that Palestinian organisations, be they parties, trade unions or social movements, are terrorists. Everyone who opposes the occupation is one. In the wake of the "war on terror" policy after the attacks of 11 September, 2001, led by the United States and Israel, this became generalised: you don't just have to monitor the perpetrators of terrorist attacks, but the whole fabric of civil society. And this includes the whole community. So they began to persecute gyms or student organisations that said they were in the Hamas milieu. At the time of the Second Intifada, many were outlawed. And now it is the turn of humanitarian, human rights and development organisations, which work on the ground supporting those who suffer the most from the apartheid regime.
— Precisely because we were succeeding in supporting the people who were suffering the most. And also because we had succeeded internationally in exposing Israel's gross violations of rights and war crimes. We have convinced the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to open an investigation against Israel. We have succeeded in getting the UN Human Rights Council to publish a list of multinational companies that are complicit in the occupation. Israel accuses us of being terrorists because we are succeeding in exposing their crimes. And for the Israeli government all this is very easy, because everything is done through military orders and it is enough to say that they have secret information against a certain group, whether it is a trade union, a party or a humanitarian organisation: the military governor declares that it is associated with terrorism and closes it down. And since they can't manage to destroy our reputation as human rights organisations, they are now attacking our international donors to cut off our funding. I think this is the last resort they have left to silence us.
How has getting on the list affected your organisation?
— We have suffered repression for a long time. They raided our headquarters in 2001, during the Second Intifada, and some of our comrades were arrested. They did it again in 2012 and stole seven computers from us. The last time they raided the office was in 2019, and they stole our computers and files again. Our job is to represent Palestinian prisoners before military courts, and we believe that they also copied our servers. Our teams find it very difficult to move around the territory, to enter Jerusalem or to travel abroad. Our intervention team has been detained. Our lawyer in Jerusalem was under administrative detention [a regime that allows indefinite detention without charges] and now he has been ordered to be deported to France, because he has French nationality, although he has lived all his life in Jerusalem. If you criticise Israel's policies you are automatically accused of being anti-Semitic, which is not true: we are very clear in our language and we respect all human rights standards. They try to undermine our reputation.
How are Palestinians treated in Israeli prisons?
— I would start by saying that the policy of transferring them to Israeli prisons is a war crime in itself. They do it to better control them and isolate them from their family and lawyers. With the pandemic this was dramatic, because they cancelled all family visits and they didn't even have a phone to communicate with their people to know if they were well. There are also serious deficiencies in medical treatment in prisons and many end up with chronic illnesses: in the last two years five Palestinians have died in Israeli prisons due to medical negligence. In addition, they are subjected to daily punishment and humiliation, and torture is permitted during interrogations. With the escape in September, the 4,600 Palestinian prisoners, including 200 minors, were subjected to collective punishment: they were kept locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, with no visitors. That is why they started hunger strikes and protests.