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Israel expels Human Rights Watch country director Omar Shakir

Shakir vows to return, as HRW denounces his expulsion as an attempt by Israel to silence criticism of its human rights record
Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch's director for Israel and the Palestinian territories, waves from a car in Jerusalem (AFP)

Israel expelled Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch’s director for Israel and the Palestinian territories, on Monday over his alleged support of a boycott movement of the country.

The expulsion, upheld by Israel’s Supreme Court on 5 November, gave Shakir - a US citizen - 25 days to leave.

Shakir's expulsion took place under a controversial 2017 law allowing the deportation of foreigners who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a non-violent campaign to hold Israel accountable for its human rights violations against Palestinians.

Sitting in a car as he prepared to head to the airport on Monday, Shakir told media and supporters: “Goodbye, I will be back.”

Ahead of his deportation, Shakir told a press conference: “I’ll be back when the day comes that we have succeeded in dismantling the system of discrimination impacting Israelis and Palestinians.”

HRW executive director Kenneth Roth denounced the Israeli ruling.

'Israel today joins the likes of Venezuela, Iran and Egypt in barring Human Rights Watch researchers, but it, too, will not succeed in hiding its human rights abuses'

- Kenneth Roth, HRW

“Israel today joins the likes of Venezuela, Iran and Egypt in barring Human Rights Watch researchers, but it, too, will not succeed in hiding its human rights abuses," Roth said.

"A government that expels a leading human rights investigator is not likely to stop its systematic oppression of Palestinians under occupation without much greater international pressure."

Israel accused Shakir of being a supporter of BDS, an allegation HRW and Shakir have denied - accusing Israel of seeking to suppress criticism of its discriminatory policies towards Palestinians.

In May 2018, Israel revoked Shakir's work visa. Since then, Shakir has been fighting a lengthy legal campaign against his expulsion.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), described Israel's expulsion of Shakir as "desperate and despotic action."

"It is an alarming wake-up call to all those who seek peace and justice for both sides that Israel will resort to extreme measures to hide the truth," Ashrawi said in a statement. 

Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Shakir’s deportation was a sign of an increasing assault by Israel on human rights, and the New York-based organisation will continue documenting Israeli government violations of international laws.

“Today, Israel deports Shakir because Human Rights Watch urges businesses to shun illegal settlements. Who’s next?” Roth said.