Palestinian Human-Rights Organizations: A New Agenda
The political changes that occurred in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip following the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority had important consequences on the Palestinian Human-Rights Movement (PHRM), affecting the nature of the work, the mandate, the activists involved, and their terms of reference. It is very important to note that, at the beginning, PHRM did not "digest" the changes in Palestinian society, which resulted in a delay in translating the new reality into new models of work.
After the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement in September 1993, the sovereign ruling political power changed. The Israeli military authority used to be the sovereign power in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in its capacity as the occupation authority. After the peace accords, a new authority started to act: the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). This development resulted in changes in the human-rights agenda.

Changes in Terms of Reference

Palestinian Human-Rights Organizations (PHRO) still continue monitoring the behavior of Israel as an occupying power in light of the international conventions related to the protection of civilians in time of war and, specifically, the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Hague Regulations of 1970, as well as other international humanitarian instruments. PHRO also examine the Israeli practices in violation of specific conventions that Israel signed and ratified, such as the International Labor Organization (ILO) agreements, the Convention against Torture, etc.
The terms of reference for the PNA are quite different, as the PNA is not an occupying power. It is a national authority, so the instruments which deal with an occupying power are no more applicable to a national authority. PHRO started to examine the PNA practices according to the civil rights instruments, particularly, instruments which deal with the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, children's rights, women's rights, persons with disabilities' rights, etc. In addition, PHRO's main concern is to examine the PNA's real attitude towards its own repeated announcements regarding these international instruments, and regarding its sincere intention to respect human rights.

Changes in Motive

The motivation that empowers Palestinian human-rights activists changed. During the occupation, the national motive and the national resistance were the main factors behind the Palestinian human-rights activists. After joining PHRO, the staff started to receive human-rights training, and worked on human rights mainly because they felt that such efforts assist the Palestinian national struggle to put an end to the Israeli occupation. There is no one among the Palestinian human-rights activists who seeks to "get rid of" a national authority.

The Universality of Human Rights

In all circumstances, PHRO maintained its belief in the universality of human rights despite the new rulers. Human-rights organizations should avoid bias, and examine the behavior of any power according to the relevant international criteria.

New Programs

PHRO started new projects to respond to the new political situation. In addition, they continued those projects that the organizations felt remained important:
a. Monitoring Human-Rights Abuses. PHRO continued their previous role in monitoring and denouncing human-rights abuses perpetrated by Israel, the Israeli military or any of its agents. The monitoring role expanded to include monitoring the violations perpetrated by the PNA.
Thus, PHRO continued their watchdog role in documenting, monitoring and denouncing human-rights violations of Palestinians, regardless of the nationality of the perpetrators.
b. The Advisory Role. PHRO started to participate more actively in assisting and transferring part of their accumulated experience to the PNA, especially in legislation. PHRO made analyses of the peace agreement and examined the level of its compliance with international law, international humanitarian law, and human rights.
PHRO made a thorough evaluation and expressed deep criticism of various proposed Palestinian laws being discussed at the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). The following laws were thoroughly examined:
• The Basic Law
• The Encouraging Investments Law
• The Publications Law
• The Elections Law
• The Labor Law
• The Charitable Societies Law
• The Citizenship Law
• The Political Parties Law
• The TV & Broadcasting Law
• The Social Security Law
• The Law Regarding Persons with Disabilities
• The Civil Service Law
• The Rehabilitation Centers (Prisons) Law
Thus, PHRO did not limit itself to the watchdog role, but started to advise independently and professionally. This new role was assumed as PHRO realized the urgency to assist in pushing Palestinian society towards a civil-rights society.
c. Training. PHRO started increasingly to realize the importance of conducting human-rights training for the Palestinian law enforcement officials, in all districts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
PHRO started such programs in order to increase the awareness of the Palestinian law enforcement officials in human-rights issues, and used to issue "Know Your Rights" series. Currently PHRO are issuing "Know Your Rights ... Know Your Duties" series, in an attempt to balance between the bill of rights and duties.
d. Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture. As a result of the peace process, at least 7,500 Palestinian political prisoners were released from Israeli detention facilities. Several governmental and non-governmental projects were initiated to address the needs of the released prisoners and their families.
Programs like vocational training aimed to empower released prisoners with special vocational training as taxi drivers, carpenters, building constructors, etc. Other projects addressed the need to provide loans for released prisoners to start their micro-projects. Important programs were launched to deal with the rehabilitation of victims of torture, as many of the released prisoners suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Future Programs

To start programs that aim to balance the equation between rights and duties is an important issue, as Palestinians used, throughout the years of occupation, to resist and to ask for rights.
The Israeli occupation is still continuing in parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Therefore, PHRO have to keep monitoring Israeli human-rights abuses.
But they also should contribute in improving conditions in Palestinian prisons, to assist in establishing a Palestinian human-rights police college, and to strengthen and improve the judicial system and the civil courts. Additionally, they have to think about establishing public committees, such as the Palestinian Public Committee against Torture, Political Arrests, etc.
A strategy should be adopted to train members of the Palestinian political factions, including opposition and fundamentalist groups. Such training should include, in addition to the traditional human-rights topics, issues related to a peaceful transfer of authority through democratic methods, non-violent methods, and elections, and, finally, to strengthening the concept of freedom of expression and a tolerant approach.