On Wednesday, February 16, an Israeli military court sentenced Khitam Saafin, a prominent Palestinian women’s rights activist and president of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC), to 16 months in prison, along with a fine of 1,500 Israeli shekels (USD 460). Saafin is currently imprisoned in Israel under the controversial administrative detention policy.
59-year-old Saafin was arrested by Israeli security forces in November 2020 and placed under administrative detention for six months after the Israeli authorities accused her of being a member of the banned leftist resistance organization Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The authorities later dropped that charge against Saafin and replaced it with others, including several new charges not related directly to her activities. An earlier charge against her was also renewed. News reports stated that one of the charges against her was that she was serving as the director of UPWC, a now-banned organization.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a spokesperson for the human rights group Addameer told news outlets that “accusations against Saafin are basically exaggerations of her public activity at the head of the UPWC, like fundraising, holding demonstrations and relations with other civil organizations.” The group also noted that “after negotiations with Addameer’s lawyer, the Israeli military prosecution agreed to limit the list of charges. Eventually, the court only counted 4 months of Saafin’s detention without charges as part of her new sentence.” Shawan Jabarin, director of Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq, among the six Palestinian rights groups banned by Israel last year, said that Saafin’s sentence is “an attempt to intimidate us and silence the voices that defend human rights in Palestine,” while also vowing that “Palestinian civil organizations will continue our work despite these attempts.”
UPWC, along with five other Palestinian groups, was labelled as a ‘terrorist organization’ and banned by Israel in October last year. The announcement by the Israeli defense minister was met with a universal outcry and concern from local and international rights groups that called it a direct attack on Palestinian human rights and the international human rights movement. There have been repeated appeals from the international community for Israel to rescind the ban and end the harassment of Palestinian rights groups.
Saafin’s arrest in 2020 in a violent late night raid, part of a series of simultaneous raids across the occupied West Bank by the Israeli security forces, was condemned by women’s and human rights groups around the world. The timed raids led to the arrest and detention of several other leftists, human rights activists and trade union leaders. The Palestinian Working Women Committees Union, Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, World March of Women-MENA region, Women’s Sector – Democratic Way (Morocco) and Jin Women Association (Lebanon) condemned the raids and expressed solidarity with all the detained individuals. Rights groups also called for forceful international and regional campaigns to pressure Israel and mobilize support for their release.