“I was stopped from travelling by Israel for no reason other than for my advocacy to end the daily human rights violations against Palestine,” recounts Ubai Al-Aboudi, the director of the Bisan Centre for Research and Development.
On 29 April, the Palestinian-American activist was attempting to cross the Israeli-controlled land border between the occupied West Bank and Jordan, to travel to Mexico to attend the World Social Forum, an annual meeting of global civil society organisations.
He was banned by Israeli officials.
Despite his multiple attempts to get an explanation as to why he was refused travel by the occupation, senior Israeli officials refused to provide him with an answer.
“Israel couldn’t have continued in its violations without international community complicity, including the US, who remain silent and unstirred,” Ubai says. “The same countries have shown quite well that they have lots of tools to impose punishment against a state that violates international law like Russia.”
This also applies to the situation the Bisan Centre and five other Palestinian civil society organisations have found themselves in now Israel declared them “terrorist organisations” last October.
“It all comes down to the critical research and work we’re doing,” explains Ubai.
They didn’t stop me for personal reasons, they stopped me because I am part of an organisation that is exposing human rights violations and asymmetrical power relations. They categorised Bisan as a terrorist organisation because its connecting with other grassroots organisations, the youth, women and people with disabilities to raise the Palestinian voice on a global level.
Established in 1989, during the height of the First Intifada by Palestinian progressives and academics, the Bisan Centre is a non-governmental, democratic organisation aiming to support the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and build up a strong Palestinian civil society.
Bisan raises the voice of community actors, particularly from marginalised groups to better represent their needs and interests and equip them with strategic means to secure their basic rights.
“We have worked to produce critical research about socio economic rights, especially the violations by different bodies, whether it was the occupation or the Palestinian Authority (PA), or big business in the West Bank and Gaza,” explains Ubai. “We have focused all our work all these years on empowering and giving voice to those people who are rarely heard and push against policies that marginalise different segments of the Palestinian society.”
The success of the organisation, which includes exposing the major contributors to the “de-development” of the Palestinian economy, is due to the combination of critical and practical research.
“We don’t just critique, we also offer a way forward for Palestinians to take control of their destiny by explaining ways to tackle different issues relating to Palestine, whether it is solidarity economy or steadfastness economy.”
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“For example, we exposed how donor funding is feeding into the de-development in the Palestinian context by observing the past 25-30 years, since the Oslo process started, during which the PA, the West Bank and Gaza, and also civil society received $50 billion in foreign aid, one of the most heavily subsidised areas in the world.”
According to Bisan’s research, explains Ubai, a significant amount of aid, almost 85 per cent, ended up in Israel through imports, which ultimately, catered to the structural failures of the Palestinian economy.
He listed major indicators such as Palestine’s severe economic decline, in addition to the education system which he noted is performing worse than in 1994, the poor health system and agricultural areas, as well as the decline in the gross domestic product (GDP).
Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and those closely associated with the Palestinian Authority (PA) are living in luxury.
We have seen the phenomenon of multibillionaires rising, those who are related to the PA while poverty is more and more entrenched in Palestinian communities
reveals Ubai. “We are also seeing the phenomenon of main productive sectors being destroyed in the West Bank and Gaza through the neoliberal open market policies that the PA adopted, which have contributed to the subjugation of the Palestinian people.”
A vocal critic of corruption in the PA, Ubai says he is not afraid to continue campaigning for human rights. Adding that as the US and international community does, the PA must take a look at its own political agendas and allegiances.
“That’s why it’s crazy that Bisan is designated as a terrorist organisation by Israel and accused of doing critical research to benefit a political party, because no academic research of ours benefits any individual political parties. It benefits the entirety of humanity and therefore, if any political party or countries wants to adopt our research, we will be more than happy. Even Israel because that would result in them reversing all their racist policies and decolonising Palestine!”
Bisan’s latest research, scheduled to be published later this year, exposes the PA as the second largest body which is usurping land in the West Bank after the Israeli occupation authorities, to prioritise big businesses, Ubai says.
“This is an ongoing violation that has happened in the Jordan Valley, Jericho, Ramallah and Jenin against Palestinian farmers, who are losing their lands as a result,” says Ubai. “Some of these are direct confiscation orders from the PA president.”
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He reiterated that Israel is an occupying apartheid state and the main problem but also, bringing to light PA complicity in human rights violations for economic gain is just as imperative to achieve Palestinian national liberation.
Determined to continue his work despite the criminalisation of his organisation and targeted harassment by Israeli authorities, Ubai says, it is his duty as a human rights defender to keep going.
“There will be a price to be paid by every activist but in the long run this will contribute in creating a more equal world where human rights are not being violated. The case of Palestine is a microcosm of all the injustices happening across the world.”
“Whether it’s class, racism, gender or occupation violations, you’ll find it in Palestine, and solving the issues of Palestine will give hope that these issues will not be entrenched in other places of the world.”
The price Ubai has paid for his work is having his phone hacked. Last year it was relieved that the Pegasus spyware developed by Israeli company NSO Group had been embedded on his device.
“The far-right, the racists and war criminals are not taking a break from their crimes, so to counter that we need continuous activism and to raise the voices of the people against human rights violations against Palestine,” he added.
“The Pegasus software that was developed here and first used against Palestinians is now being sold and abused by tyrants on a global scale. It just goes to show, what is continuing in Palestine will open doors for more human rights violations around the world, including the West, which we’re already seeing.”