Gisha: Access for all?
Summary: Gisha is an Israeli-based NGO that promotes freedom of movement for Palestinians, regularly petitioning Israel’s Supreme Court on this issue. It uses the vocabulary of international law and human rights to promote a partisan political and ideological agenda, erasing essential facts and different opinions. In addition, Gisha’s use of "apartheid" rhetoric, downplays the context of terror and misrepresents human rights issues, contributing to the perception that Israel is imposing restrictions on Palestinians without cause. Funding for Gisha is provided by Echoing Green, the Dutch and Norwegian Foreign Ministries and other donors.
Established in 2005 and based in Tel Aviv, Gisha describes its mandate as engaging "in litigation and advocacy that aim to help individuals exercise their right to freedom of movement while working for systemic change in military practices and abuses at Israeli border-crossings and checkpoints." Its website places emphasis on two distinct dimensions: exploiting "untapped potential for law reform effectuated through intensive engagement with the military bureaucracy," and an emphasis on "the Gaza Strip, a severely underserved area whose viability depends on the ability of people and goods to move in and out of its borders." Gisha is headed by Sari Bashi, an American-qualified lawyer, and a former Israeli Supreme Court clerk. Prior to founding Gisha, Sari worked at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. Professor Kenneth Mann, a law professor at Tel Aviv University and a former Chief Public Defender, serves as Gisha’s Legal Adviser and Chairperson of the Advisory Committee.
Gisha states that it receives funding from a number of different sources including the Dutch and Norwegian Foreign Ministries, Echoing Green (a primary source), The Foundation for Middle East Peace (FME) and The Open Society Institute. Gisha accepts donations from the United States through the New Israel Fund although does not specifically list them as one of their funders.
According to its website, Echoing Green "provides first-stage funding and support to visionary leaders with bold ideas for social change. …Through a two-year fellowship program, we help passionate social entrepreneurs develop new solutions to some of society’s most difficult problems." Sari Bashi, Gisha’s director, is a recipient of Echoing Green’s fellowship program. Other past recipients include Huwaida Arraf, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and Fred Schlomka, former operations manager of Israel Committee against House Demolitions and founder of Mosaic Communities, an organization that promotes "integrated Arab-Jewish communities"
Gisha states on its website that its aim is to seek "to protect the fundamental rights of Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories by imposing human rights law as a limitation on the behavior of Israel ’s military."
Gisha’s principle activities consist of petitioning the High Court to allow students access to study Israeli or West Bank universities, and in campaigning "for removal or reduction in restrictions on movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza." In these campaigns, Gisha selectively applies human rights law by failing to mention the context and the logic of Israeli border-crossings and checkpoints, as documented below.
"Disengaged Occupiers" Report: Politics in the Guise of Legal Analysis
In January 2007, Gisha produced a much-publicised report entitled "Disengaged Occupiers: The Legal Status of Gaza " claiming that "Israel continues to control Gaza through an ‘invisible hand’: control over borders, airspace, territorial waters, population registry, the tax system, supply of goods and others." The report also states that despite Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005, "completion of the disengagement plan has not absolved Israel of its obligations to permit and to facilitate the proper functioning of civilian life in the Gaza Strip" This is a much-debated issue, in which Gisha presents the Palestinian position , while ignoring different analyses. This biased publication neglects to mention that under Article 6 of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, a foreign power is only considered an occupier "to the extent that such Power exercises the functions of government in such territory." Since 1995, and certainly since the disengagement, Gaza’s Palestinian population has been under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction.
Gisha’s report accuses Israel of controlling "movement within the Gaza Strip through sporadic troop presence and artillery fire from positions along its border with Gaza," and calls on Israel to "fulfil its obligations toward the people of Gaza under the fourth Geneva Convention, the Hague Regulations, and Israeli and international human rights law, namely: to open Gaza’s borders to the free passage of people and goods, to refrain from inflicting damage on Gaza’s infrastructure, including sources of water, fuel, electricity and transportation."
The authors of this report neglect to mention the 2127 Palestinian rocket attacks launched from Gaza during 2005 and 2006. Similarly, they have erased the essential security dimension of Israel’s continued supervision of traffic crossing Gaza’s borders. And when Gisha condemns Israel for bombing Gaza’s electricity transformers, the context of the preceding illegal cross-border raid that resulted in the killing of two Israeli soldiers and kidnapping of a third on June 25, 2006, is also erased.
The basic factual omissions in this report reveal Gisha’s core agenda – to delegitimize Israeli actions while ignoring internal Palestinian failings and human rights abuses. Gisha’s political bias is evident in its blanket portrayal of Israel as aggressor, which prevents it even engaging with the question of military proportionality of Israel’s response to this June 2006 attack.
Legal activities and the language of demonization
Gisha often pursues its political campaigns via the Israeli High Court. For example, on October 9, 2006, Gisha petitioned the Court to allow entry to Sawsan Salameh, a student from the West Bank who had been accepted to study at Hebrew University but was unable to obtain a permit for longer than six months. Gisha petitioned the court stating "that with no doctoral programs in West Bank universities, Israel was obliged under international law to let her enter for studies." The Court rejected the State’s arguments for the six-month limit, stating that they were "unreasonable and said that if there were no security objections regarding Salameh, her permit should be extended." The underlying Israeli policy of promoting separation towards a two-state solution, and reducing Palestinian dependence for services on Israel was not mentioned in the debate.
Gisha also petitioned the Court to repeal the November 19, 2006 directive prohibiting Israelis and tourists without a permit from transporting Palestinians who reside in the West Bank in their cars. On January 17, 2007, Gisha issued a public statement noting the Court’s decision to suspend this "apartheid order".
Similarly, in a petition submitted to the Supreme Court, Gisha accuses the State of Israel of implementing the "ideology of "segregation" ("us here and them there") and uses the highly misleading analogies of South African apartheid and the U.S. racial segregation. These false comparisons also ignore the context of Palestinian terror and legitimacy of Israeli responses: "We cannot claim a patent on the establishment of a legal system of segregation, since human history is familiar with methods of racial or other "segregation" as was the case in South Africa during the apartheid and in the Southern US States until the 1960s." This language is evidence of Gisha’s promotion of the "Durban Strategy", of isolating Israel and undermining its legitimacy by identifying it with apartheid South Africa, without providing the context of terror
Co-operation with other organizations
Past activities have included co-operation with highly politicized Palestinian NGOs, such as the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, as is illustrated in a press release dated December 1, 2005 regarding Gisha’s petition to the High Court on behalf of 10 students living in Gaza and studying in Bethlehem. The press release refers to an advert that Gisha jointly placed in the Haaretz daily, along with Yesh Din, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), The Committee against Torture in Israel, HaMoked and several other political organisations. The advert again refers to Israel as an apartheid regime that provides additional evidence of their support of the "Durban" agenda.
On November 9, 2006, Gisha placed an advert in Haaretz, jointly with B’Tselem, HaMoked, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) and several other organisations, calling for an end to indiscriminate shooting into crowded civilian areas and protesting the killing of civilians.
On July 11, Gisha joined with five Israel-based political NGOs (ACRI, (PHR-I) , HaMoked, B’Tselem, and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel) to call on the Israeli government to keep open the crossings into Gaza for essential supplies. The NGOs termed Israel’s current policies as "collective punishment" while ignoring the security threat at the Gaza crossings. The statement also did not mention the cause of the crisis or call on any Palestinian body to release Shalit.
Gisha’s work in promoting freedom of movement for the Palestinians may reflect a genuine concern for Palestinian rights. However, as the "Disengaged Occupiers" report and other campaigns show, this mandate is often distorted to promote a one-sided political agenda and inaccurate presentations of the conflict. Gisha repeatedly uses apartheid rhetoric and has reinforced the NGO mantra that Gaza is still occupied, crossing the line from legitimate criticism of Israeli government policy into demonization. As a human rights organisation, Gisha has a responsibility to engage with the human rights complexities of balancing Palestinian rights with protecting Israelis from terrorism, and not to simplify the conflict so that Palestinians are excused of all responsibility.
See Correspondence with Sari Bashi following the publication of this report
1. p. 8, p. 9 "Disengaged Occupiers", January 17, 2007, www.gisha.org
4. See, for example, Dore Gold, Legal Acrobatics: The Palestinian Claim that Gaza is Still "Occupied" Even After Israel Withdraws, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, August 26 2005
7. See Gerald M. Steinberg, "Getting beyond slogans of Palestinian victimization" Jerusalem Post, November 5 2006.