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2009 Al-Haq and B'Tselem


Director Jessica Montell received the Geuzen Medal on behalf of B'Tselem. Spokesman Wesam Ahmad received the Geuzen Medal on behalf of Al-Haq. Photo: Arie Wapenaar
The Geuzen Medal 2009 is awarded to B'Tselem, the IsraŽli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and to the Palestinian Human Rights Organization Al-Haq. 

Mr. Jozias van Aartsen presented the Geuzen Medals 2009. The Mayor of the City of The Hague is chairman of the International City of Peace and Justice and of the City-Diplomacy-committee of United Cities and Local Governments. He is also former Minister of Foreign Affairs. 

Al-Haq is an independent Palestinian human rights organisation and B'Tselem is an independent Israeli human rights organisation. Both organisations critically monitor the activities of the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. Their work focuses on reporting violations of Palestinian human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The right and human dignity
In Arabic, Al-Haq means 'the right'. The organisation was founded by a group of Palestinian lawyers in 1979 and its offices are in Ramallah. The word B'Tselem comes from the Biblical creation story and in Modern Hebrew means 'human dignity'. Academics, lawyers, journalists and members of the Israeli parliament founded the organisation in 1989 and its offices are in Jerusalem.

Reliable approach Al-Haq
Al-Haq uses field workers in the region to investigate possible violations of human rights. Al-Haq strives to record accurate statements 'under oath' from the victims themselves or from eye witnesses. The organisation is affiliated with the International Commission of Jurists in
Geneva. Al-Haq campaigns nationally and internationally against human rights violations by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, appealing to the UN, the EU and other states which are not involved in the conflict. Al-Haq also provides training for Palestinian law enforcement agencies and civil society organisations involved in human rights. The organisation appeals for integration of the international human rights standards in Palestinian legislation.

Some results achieved by Al-Haq
In 2008, Al-Haq continued to address the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, particularly the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
Besides reporting violations by Israeli authorities, Al-Haq has also drawn attention to internal Palestinian abuses through reports and press conferences about arbitrary imprisonment and torture by the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian factions. Al-Haq also seeks to use international jurisdiction to hold those responsible for violations of Palestinian human rights to account. Al-Haq trained Palestinian non-governmental organisations in the use of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, a review into human rights in UN member states. Al-Haq assisted Palestinian non-governmental organisations in submitting their findings to the UN Human Rights Council.

Film award
In 2008 Al-Haq also shed light on the connection between Israeli war crimes dating back four decades and crimes being committed now. The documentary ĎMemory of the Cactusí and associated legal investigation tell the story of three Palestinian villages in the Latroun enclave on the West Bank which were destroyed when Israel occupied the territory. Today, the inhabitants of these villages are still displaced and barred from returning, while Israeli citizens enjoy barbecues and picnics in the Jewish National Fund's 'Canada Park', oblivious to the crimes perpetrated in their names on that very land. The film received international acclaim with screenings all over the world including Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia and the United Arab Emirates where the film won the award for best documentary at the Dubai International Film Festival. The film helped improve awareness of continuing Israeli occupation policy aimed at driving Palestinians from their country and eradicating memories of the Palestinian people.

Increased awareness through B'Tselem
B'Tselem is the Israeli information centre for human rights in the
Occupied Palestinian Territories. B'Tselem wants to inform Israeli citizens and policy makers about the current human rights situation in the Occupied Territories and bring an end to human rights violations. Working together with the Israeli authorities, B'Tselem strives to ensure that perpetrators of violations are brought to account by investigating claims of military or government abuse. The organisation also acts as a reliable source of information for the international community. Besides the high quality reports produced by B'Tselem, the organisation also leads the way in using new methods of drawing attention to human rights.

Some results achieved by B'Tselem
Partly based on the work of B'Tselem, it was decided to refer the question of the West Bank barrier to the International Court of Justice. Another result of the work of B'Tselem is the judgement of the Israeli High Court that 30 kilometres of the barrier were illegally erected and that the government must reassess the damage suffered by Palestinians along the entire route.  
B'Tselem also played a key role in abolishing punitive house demolition. Subsequent to a B'Tselem report, the Knesset Law Committee appointed a special committee on this matter. In 2005, this committee recommended halting punitive house demolitions, including acknowledging that such demolitions increase the hostility of the population and harm
Israel's international reputation.

B'Tselem also pioneered an innovative video strategy to draw attention to human rights. 130 video cameras were distributed among Palestinians in high conflict areas. They recorded images of violence perpetrated by colonists and soldiers which shocked the world and generated widespread criticism of Israeli policy. The video footage forced the authorities to launch criminal investigations and file indictments.

In October 1999, the Israeli High Court categorically outlawed methods of physical violence routinely applied by the General Security Service in interrogations of Palestinians. These practices were exposed by lawyers and various organisations which brought hundreds of similar cases to court and mobilised local and public opinion against Israeli use of torture. B'Tselem published eight reports on this subject and appeared three times before the UN Committee against Torture.

Violations of human rights
The conflict between the Palestinians and
Israel is complex and harrowing. Attacks by armed Palestinian groups kill tens of Israelis every year and cause fear among the population. Palestinian suffering is extensive. Israel has occupied large parts of the West Bank to build and expand Israeli settlements. The presence of these settlements has resulted in the creation of two different and discriminatory legal systems in the same area, whereby a person's nationality determines which rights and benefits he or she has. In recent years, thousands of Palestinians have been killed and many more thousands arrested without charge. Serious offences against Palestinians by Israeli soldiers and colonists, such as assault and attacks on property, have frequently gone unpunished. Israeli military operations have killed many innocent Palestinians.

In particular, Palestinians are seriously restricted in their freedom of movement. Hundreds of Israeli military check points and road blocks on the West Bank restrict or obstruct Palestinians from freely travelling between towns and villages. The construction of the 700 kilometre wall, mainly on the West Bank territory, restricts Palestinian movements even further. In June 2007, the Israeli government erected another blockade in Gaza, causing a serious humanitarian crisis. Palestinians died because they could not get out of Gaza to go to hospital for specialist treatment. UN relief organisations complained that the blockade hindered international aid. In response to the continued rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas from Gaza, at the end of 2008 Israel launched a military operation against Hamas targets. This resulted in many fatalities and casualties among the Palestinians and a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The Palestinians are also victims of human rights abuse from their own authorities. Internal political conflict and violence between the factions has resulted in the death of citizens who were not directly involved. Both Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank have applied extrajudicial punishments, arbitrary imprisonment and torture against political opponents


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