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.
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
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
• 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
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).
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.