PHR-Israel to publish a signed declaration against this intimidation in Haaretz on Thursday
June 3, 2008
BBSNews 2008-06-03 -- While many in the United States have been focused on the upcoming general election in November, business as usual
is occurring across the world in the Middle East in Israel, with the intimidating interrogation of Physicians for Human Rights Clinics
Director Haj Yehya.
The deteriorating conditions in Gaza, particularly the serious medical complications arising from the US sanctioned Israeli blockade
and collective punishment of Gaza civilians that yet continues even as Barack Obama becomes the presumptive Democratic nominee heading
into the US November elections; it all will fall into the lap of the next US administration.
Secretary Condoleezza Rice has already conceded that hopes for an agreement ala the failed Annapolis Conference will have to be
handed off to the next administration. She has signaled that the growing political crisis in Israel with the investigation
of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert allegedly receiving cash from US businessman Morris Talansky, hopes for a peace deal during Bush II's dwindling
term are now dashed.
This bodes ill for Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and the other humanitarian groups working in and around the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict as once again, any movement towards a peace deal have been thwarted by politics and international lethargy, but most
of all, a total lack of any real engagement on the part of the current United States administration in calling on Israel to finally respect
the UN resolutions that it must respect to achieve its own security.
The type of intimidation outlined by PHR is simply beyond belief. The dialog reads like a bad movie from the late 1940's. When a state organization, this time Israel's secret service Shin Bet, tells a human rights
medical professional that "we know where your family members sleep" or that "we know where your children go to school" there is
something seriously and systemically wrong in the state of Israel.
According to Haaretz, the Shin Bet interrogator even asked Yehya: "Would you mind if I called you once a while?" Would a US citizen be thrilled at the US Secret Service or Homeland Security giving them a periodic call to check in?
For its part, PHR sent out the following background on the case and the letter they have sent to the GSS:
On Monday, May 26, Physicians for Human Rights sent a letter to the head of the GSS, Yuval Diskin, in which the heads of the organization protest the attempt by the General Security Service to harm the organization's work and warn against the attempt to influence its policy and methods and intimidate a human rights organization. The letter was sent following the interrogation last week of Salah Haj Yehya, the organisation's Clinics Director, by the GSS.
Haj Yehya, who has worked for PHR for 20 years, was summoned for an interrogation following PHR-Israel's request to issue a doctors delegation to Gaza for the third time in the last six months to give medical aid and ascertain the health impact of ongoing Israeli policies in the Gaza Strip. Whereas all other members of the doctors' delegation received permission to enter, the Clinics Director was told he was "denied entry on security grounds". It should be noted that it was Haj Yehya who had organized and led the previous delegations to Gaza. In response to enquiries regarding the prohibition on his entry, the GSS claimed that PHR-Israel had exceeded its 'mandate' by engaging in 'political' affairs in the Gaza Strip besides its humanitarian activities.
On the evening of May 14 a police patrol car came to the home of the Clinics Director in Taybeh, Israel to summon him for investigation. The next day, he came to the Taybeh police station, assuming it was merely a mistake that could be clarified in the course of a conversation, because he was engaged in transparent and legal activities of the organization. However, during the interrogation, which took place on two levels -- the personal and the organizational -- it became clear that it was a matter of inappropriate interference by the GSS in a human rights organization's activity.
The GSS investigated PHR-Israel's Clinics Director about the organization's activity, its budget, its donors, the rates of its salaries and asked for information about other workers in the organization. It also asked how the members of the organization enter the occupied territories, how the safety of participants is ensured and how they transfer patients from Gaza to Israel. Emphasis was placed on the question of whether representatives of the organization had met Ismail Haniya and why they had talked (during their last visit to Gaza) with the Palestinian Minister of Health and head of the parliament. "When the Clinics Director asked his interrogators whether, according to the definitions of the GSS, we were allowed to converse with the Minister of Health, who is both a political and a professional figure, the interrogator failed to answer, whether because he knew the demand to avoid political activity was not valid or because he preferred to maintain vagueness in order to create embarrassment in the organization," said the letter.
On a personal level Haj Yehya was asked about his statements to the media and whether he was a member of the Islamic movement. Apart from the questioning, Haj Yehya was intimidated: he was presented with photographs of his house, and the GSS interrogator "Danny" reminded him that details of his personal life are known to them, including where each of the members of his family sleeps in his house, and where his children go to school.
"The personal summons of an employee of PHR-Israel, who works according to the guidelines of the Board of the organization, the sending of a police vehicle to his home, the segregation of this worker, an Arab Israeli who is not a doctor, from more protected members of the organization who are both Jewish Israelis and doctors, and the threatening insinuations made in the course of the interrogation, all constitute an unprecedented attack on PHR-Israel in particular and on the principles of human rights in general, and there is no place for such practices in a law-abiding state and a democratic society," said the letter.
Since the only reason given for the summonsing of our employee was his activity within the framework of our organization, we can only see the singling out and intimidation of one of our employees as completely unacceptable and illegal, since both this employee and the other doctors in the delegation to Gaza are engaged in identical activities, and act in accordance with the guidelines of the organization's Board.
Since PHR-Israel's letter, several other human rights organizations have expressed support and/or sent similar letters to the GSS, including Adva Center, Yesh Din, ACRI, B'Tselem, PCATI, Gisha and Adalah, as well as other international organizations.