Public letter from the founders of Gisha in response to attacks on human rights organizations

January 2011

Dear friends, colleagues, and those taking an interest in Gisha’s work,

In 2005, we founded Gisha with the goal of protecting the right to freedom of movement of residents of the occupied Palestinian territory. We did so out of a belief in the importance of promoting human rights, particularly for those living under occupation, who are impacted by state policies but are not citizens of Israel, and who therefore do not participate in the Israeli political system.

We are proud of our work and the positive effect it has on the lives of those living in the region.

We wish to express our concern over the ongoing attacks on human rights organizations in Israel by certain members of Knesset and representatives of the Israeli government. We wish to express our firm belief that Gisha and its fellow organizations play a valuable role in promoting democratic values and human rights.

Recently, the Knesset passed a proposal to establish a parliamentary committee of inquiry to investigate Israeli human rights organizations’ sources of funding and activities. Gisha and fifteen other organizations responded to this decision in a joint statement. The decision itself is mostly symbolic, because the Knesset does not have the authority to summon witnesses or to engage in other investigative procedures, but the proposal has been accompanied by harsh statements by government representatives, including accusations that human rights organizations are "terror supporters", "enemies of Israel" and "traitors".

We are concerned over this attempt to undermine the legitimacy of civil society organizations which scrutinize the actions of the government and seek to defend the rights of disempowered populations. Civil society organizations are at the very heart of a democratic society, and their role – our role – is to bring the actions of the Israeli authorities up for public scrutiny.

We do not understand the proposal to investigate our sources of funding, because, by law, Gisha reports its sources of funding to the Israeli authorities and publishes them online. We are proud of our donors: public and private foundations and generous private donors, primarily from Europe, the US and Israel. Gisha, in accordance with the law, submits annual financial statements to the authorities in which we report on donations received that year. The donations that Gisha receives from public European sources constitute a fraction of the support these same countries give to civil society organizations in the academic, scientific and cultural spheres in Israel and in other places around the world. By doing so, these countries seek to maintain a dialogue with Israeli civil society on the basis of mutual values of freedom, democracy, peace, and security.

We wish to express our gratitude to our donors and other supporters from Israel and abroad who join us in promoting shared values and defending human rights.

We invite the public – including members of the Israeli Knesset – to get to know our work by visiting us at www.gisha.org. We will continue to work to achieve a better future based on promoting fundamental rights, freedom of expression, human dignity and of course – freedom of movement.