OHCHR country director among 9 of 12 of UN agency’s workers forced to leave after visas were not renewed
Nine of 12 foreign staff from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had to leave Israel and the Palestinian territories for fear of being undocumented [File: Aziz Taher/Reuters
Israel has stopped issuing visas to United Nations human rights workers in Palestine, forcing them to leave, while also banning a Palestinian pop star from returning home.
Nine of 12 foreign staff from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) – including country director James Heenan – had to leave Israel and the Palestinian territories for fear of being undocumented after Israeli authorities refused to renew their visas.
The visas of the remaining three employees are due to expire in the coming months.
Israel suspended its ties with the UN agency in February after the agency published a list of more than 100 companies working in illegal settlements in the West Bank.
“Forcing [out] human right monitoring groups is part of a clear strategy that aims to muzzle documentations of Israel’s systematic repression of Palestinians,” Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera.
Shakir, who is currently based in Amman after being expelled from Israel after claims he supported calls for a boycott, said it is part of a wider trend in which other human rights activists are being denied entry due to their criticism of Israel’s human rights record.
However, Shakir said that if Israel’s goal was to silence criticism it had failed, as human rights activists continue to do their work as “strongly” as before.
“The reality is that silencing human rights activists … often only brings more attention to those issues,” he said.
“In an era with COVID-19, where people are finding alternative ways to engage with local partners and to understand the reality on the ground, we just continue our work.”
Israel has also banned a Palestinian pop star from returning home.
Mohammed Assaf became famous after winning the Arab Idol competition in 2013.
Israeli politicians say he has been banned after Assaf released a video calling for resistance against the occupation of Palestine.
He responded with a post on Instagram saying that the move is “nothing but a continuation of the policies of oppression and curbing the freedoms suffered by my people to whom I belong in heart, form, entity and spirit and it will not stop me loving and singing about my country in every state”.
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