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The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) in-country director is among 9 of the 12 UN agency staff forced to leave the country after Israeli authorities did not renew their visas.
Aside from banning a Palestinian pop star from returning home, Israel has stopped issuing visas to human rights workers in Palestine, forcing them to leave the country.
OHCHR country director James Heenan is among eight others from the UN human rights agency forced to leave after Israeli authorities refused to renew their visas. The visas of the three remaining staff members are set to expire in the coming months.
After the UN agency published this past February a list of 100 Israeli companies working in illegal settlements in the West Bank, Israel suspended its ties with the organization.
“Forcing [out] human right monitoring groups is part of a clear strategy that aims to muzzle documentation of Israel’s systematic repression of Palestinians,” said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch.
After claiming he supported a boycott against the country, Shakir was also banned from Israel and now operates out of Amman, Jordan. He says this move is part of a broader trend to silence human rights organizations being denied entry due to their criticism of Israel's human rights record.
“The reality is that silencing human rights activists...often only brings more attention to those issues,” he said. “In an era with COVID-19, where people are finding alternative ways to engage with local partners and to understand the reality on the ground, we just continue our work.”
Israel has denied visas to UN human rights workers because Israel is a criminal state and grotesque violator of Palestinian human rights.
Israel also banned Palestinian pop star Mohammas Assaf, who won the Arab Idol competition in 2013, from returning home, supposedly for releasing a video calling for resistance against Palestine's occupation.
On Instagram, he responded to the decision by saying, "nothing but a continuation of the policies of oppression and curbing the freedoms suffered by my people to whom I belong in heart, form, entity, and spirit and it will not stop me loving and singing about my country in every state.”