Omar Barghouti (Photo: International Institute of Social Studies)
Elham Asaad Buaras
Israeli officials have confirmed the country’s Interior Ministry is reconsidering the residency rights of the co-founders of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The travel ban on Omar Barghouti, has been widely condemned by human right groups.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), a US based human rights NGO, branded the residency review confirmed on May 10 was punishment for peaceful political activism.
“Israel’s refusal to renew Barghouti’s travel document appears to be an effort to punish him for exercising his right to engage in peaceful, political activism, using its arsenal of bureaucratic control over Palestinian lives,” said, Executive Director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division, Sarah Leah Whitson.
“Sadly, Israel has used this sort of control to arbitrarily ban many Palestinians from traveling, as well as to ban international human rights monitors, journalists and activists from entering Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories,” Whitson added.
Barghouti, a Palestinian whose wife is an Arab Israeli, said that Israel was not renewing a travel permit that allows him to travel abroad. As a permanent resident of Israel, he does not hold a passport and instead requires special permission to travel in and out of the country.
The Israeli Interior Ministry said that there is evidence that Barghouti’s “center of life” is in the West Bank, not Israel. Barghouti denied the allegation, saying he spends most of his time with his family in the northern Israeli city of Acre. However, a spokeswoman for the Interior Minister conceded that “His (BDS) activities are also part of this [review].”
Barghouti said he has lived legally in Israel since 1994 and never before had a problem renewing his travel permit. He said he does so every two years.
“Refusing to renew my travel document now is therefore clearly political,” he said. “It does not just deny me my freedom of movement. It is seen by legal experts as a first step toward revoking my permanent residency, a clearly political and vindictive measure that has no legal basis.”
BDS supporters say the movement is using nonviolent means to end Israeli occupation, and it has made gains in recent years. US and British academic unions have endorsed boycotts, students at universities have made divestment proposals, and a number of churches have sold off shares in businesses seen as profiting from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. The BDS movement also claims responsibility for pressuring some large companies to stop or modify operations in Israel.
Mahmoud Nawajaa, the general coordinator of the Palestinian BDS National Committee said that, “Having failed to stop the growth of BDS in the mainstream, Israel is now launching a desperate and dangerous global war of repression on the movement. After losing many battles for the hearts and minds at the grassroots level, Israel and its well-oiled lobby groups are pressuring western states to implement patently anti-democratic measures that threaten civil liberties at large”.
In late March, Israel’s Interior Minister, Aryeh Deri, was quoted as telling a conference that he was considering revoking Barghouti’s residency.
“I was given information that his life is in Ramallah and he is using his resident status to travel all over the world in order to operate against Israel in the most serious manner,” said Deri. “He was given rights similar to those of a citizen and he took advantage of our enlightened state to portray us as the most horrible state in the world.”