Adalah demands that Israeli military’s announcement declaring the Palestinian Health Work Committees as an illegal association be rescinded

Adalah sent a letter to the Israeli Military Advocate General (MAG) and to the Israeli Attorney General (AG) on 2 August 2021 on behalf of the Palestinian Health Work Committees (HWC) in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem requesting a re-examination of the decision declaring the nonprofit organization as an illegal association.


The HWC has been registered with the Palestinian Authority since 1985. Its main purpose is to meet the health care and community developments needs of Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Since its establishment, the HWC has provided medical care to more than 400,000 people. The HWC employs over 200 full-time staff members, in addition to contracted health experts and medical professionals. It operates one hospital and over eight permanent health clinics, three mobile health clinics, and three community centers throughout the West Bank in urban and rural areas. It also runs the only center in the West Bank that specializes in gynecological cancer and women's oncology.


On 8 March 2021, the Israeli military raided the HWC’s headquarters in al-Bireh, searched and damaged the premises and seized office equipment. On the same day, the military detained one of the HWC’s staff members; two other employees were also arrested later.


None of the association’s staff, including the senior staff and management, were aware that the Iaraeli Defense Minister had declared the HWC as an illegal association under Regulation 84 of the Defence (Emergency) Regulations. They received no notice of intent to declare it as such, or that the declaration had in fact been made. The staff only learned about it only at a detention hearing in military court of one of the staff members in April 2021. In fact, the Defense Minister issued the declaration more than a year before on 22 January 2020. 


On 22 April 2021, Attorney Mahmoud Hassan of Addameer sent a letter to the MAG stating that the HWC never received the notice of the declaration and only learned about it at the detention hearing noted above. Attorney Hassan sought to obtain the evidence upon which the declaration was based and to suspend the proceedings related to its implementation. The MAG responded on 19 May 2021 stating that the HWC was declared as an illegal association following confidential information that was received linking it to a Palestinian political organization, which was also declared as an illegal association. He also noted that the announcement concerning the HWC was published in File No. 252 of the Israeli military’s Proclamations, Orders and Subscriptions from April 2020.  


To date, the HWC has not received the evidence upon which the Israeli Defense Minister based his declaration.


In its recent letter, Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher argued that the declaration must be annulled as the HWC was denied due process and the right to a fair hearing, as it was not given the opportunity to challenge the declaration before it was announced and published. 


Read the letter (Hebrew)


Further, a long time had passed between the declaration, in January 2020 and the Israelu military raid on the office in March 2021. The fact that the HWC was allowed to continue its regular operations for more than a year after the declaration indicates that there was no need to outlaw the association in the first instance. Therefore, it is also possible to hold a hearing before outlawing the association and banning the wide scope of its vital activities.


Adalah also emphasized that although the Israeli military detained several HWC employees, this is a very small number relative to the over 200 employees of the association. Further, the reasons for these arrests do not affect HWC’s entire activity of the provision of health services throughout the West Bank. The allegedly prohibited activity of the few detained employees should not be seen as justifying a sweeping ban on all the association's activities. If no evidentiary basis is found to establish that most of the organization's activities constitute prohibited activities, the organization cannot be declared as illegal and outlawed. Otherwise, such action would constitute a sweeping and disproportionate harm to the association and its beneficiaries.


Declaring the HWC as illegal means that all of its health and community services are prohibited. This act has serious and significant consequences for all residents of the occupied West Bank, particularly given the large reach and scope of its health services, particularly outside of urban areas, where the health services of the Palestinian Ministry of Health are limited. Also the placement of Israeli military checkpoints and barriers throughout the West Bank restricts many Palestinians from accessing health care in urban areas, and therefore the residents' reliance on the association's clinics in rural areas is paramount. A ban on the association's continued activity may completely block residents' access to a variety of health services, including life-saving services. 


Adalah also argued that with this declaration, the Defense Minister gave no serious weight to the Israeli military’s obligations under international humanitarian law to the occupied population. 


Adalah demanded a repeal of the declaration or in the alternative, the freezing of its enforcement until a full hearing is held or other less intrusive measures, which would allow the association to carry out its crucial activities of health provision. Adalah also demanded the evidentiary materials presented to the Defense Minister upon which he based his declaration.