Head of Palestinian Rights Group Banned From Travelling to Accept Award

Israel's refusal to allow Shawan Jabarin to travel to the ceremony is straining relations with the Netherlands.

Israel is preventing the director general of the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq, Shawan Jabarin, from travelling to the Netherlands to accept a prize. The Supreme Court has been asked to review Jabarin's petition to reverse the Shin Bet's decision.

The Geuzenpenning Prize for Human Rights Defenders will be given at a ceremony next week. The country's royal family is scheduled to attend, and Israel's refusal to allow Jabarin to travel to the Netherlands is straining relations with the European country.

The travel restrictions have stirred a series of protests by human rights organizations around the world, and has become the subject of high-level exchanges between the Dutch and Israeli foreign ministries.

The Foreign Ministry refused to comment, and the Shin Bet argued it could not comment since the matter had been brought before the Supreme Court.

For the past three years, the Shin Bet has prevented Jabarin from traveling abroad, arguing he is a member of the People's Liberation Front for Palestine, and "his travel may endanger regional security."

The Netherlands jointly awarded the prize to Al-Haq and B'tselem, an Israeli human rights group. The prize commemorates the activities of the Dutch resistance under Nazi occupation.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to deliberate Jabarin's petition today. The petitioners stress that the refusal to permit Jabarin to travel abroad suggests he is being targeted for securing human rights for his people. Moreover, Jabarin maintains that human rights activists must enjoy added protection in areas "where there is no democracy - like the occupied territories."

Previous petitions to the court requesting that Jabarin be allowed to exit the country have been rejected on the basis of classified information that the Shin Bet presented the justices.

"How can it be that my stay in the Netherlands constitutes a higher security threat than my being in Ramallah?" Jabarin told Haaretz.

"For the past 22 years, the Shin Bet has argued that I am an active member in the Popular Front. During this entire period, I was never tried for this and obviously was never given an opportunity to defend myself against such a charge. Their evidence is secret and classified and is hidden from me and my lawyers. I have been an activist in Al-Haq since 1987, and I am not an activist for the Popular Front," Jabarin said.

Ten Israeli human rights groups sent a letter of protest to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, demanding that Jabarin be allowed to travel to the Netherlands to receive the prize.

"The blatant blow to the freedom of movement of one of the best-known human rights activists in the West Bank is contrary to the basic principles of a state that is governed by the rule of law," they wrote.