While Knesset proposes economic sanctions against human rights groups, Courts already implementing

Monday, June 27, 2011 – Supreme Court Justice Asher Grunis has rejected Gisha’s motion to stay the execution of the judgment of Judge Eliyahu Beitan of the Beersheva District Court, pending appeal before the Supreme Court. In the petition filed in February this year, Gisha requested that seven Muslim women from Gaza be allowed to enter Jerusalem to exercise their right of freedom of worship and pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The District Court rejected the petition and ordered Gisha to pay legal expenses in the unusually high amount of NIS 25,000 (about $7,000 U.S.), apparently in order to deter Gisha from requesting judicial review of military refusals to allow Palestinians to travel. Gisha had asked to defer payment pending the outcome of the appeal, which asked that the women be permitted to travel and that the costs be revoked.

The District Court judgment was accompanied by disparaging comments by Justice Beitan, in which he expressed skepticism regarding Gisha’s function as a "human rights" organization (quotation marks in the original). In public petitions on matters of principle, it is not customary to award expenses to the state, even when the petition is rejected, and such a high amount of expenses for a public petitioner is rare.

This creates the impression that the economic sanctions against human rights groups being considered by the Knesset and the government this week are seeping into the court system, says Sari Bashi, Executive Director of Gisha. "While the Knesset debates laws whose purpose is to impose financial sanctions on human rights groups that help disempowered populations, the Beersheva District Court is already sanctioning human rights organizations for their provision of legal aid to people who want to travel in order to study, earn a living, and invest in a better future."

In an appeal, Attorney Nomi Heger writes that "the judgment conveys a sense of doubt that Gisha and other organizations of its kind are organizations whose top priority really is to fight for the human rights of individuals… that message is even expressed graphically by the use of quotation marks around the words ‘human rights’ and by imposing exceptional legal fees."