We, non-government organizations from different sectors in the Philippines working for health and human rights, condemn the Israeli occupation forces’ (IOF) arrest of Health Work Committees (HWC) Foundation Director General Shatha Odeh from her home in Ein Misbah, Palestine at 2 AM on July 7, 2021. According to her family, Odeh was arrested by soldiers who entered their house, confiscated her car, and took her to an unknown location.
Shatha Odeh is a dedicated and well known human rights defender in Palestine. She is the president of PNGO (Palestinian NGO Network), a network of over 140 Palestinian civil society organizations. Odeh also leads the Middle East and North Africa circle of the People’s Health Movement.
Her arrest comes after a series of blows to health and humanitarian workers and institutions in Palestine. In March this year, the IOF detained Mr. Tayseer Abu Shalbak, staff in the accounting department of HWC. In June, the IOF raided the HWC office and arbitrarily issued a military decision to close the health institution for 6 months. Odeh’s arrest follows the brief detention of fellow activist and Palestinian-American economist Ubai Aboudi of Bisan Center for Research and Development.
We believe that the attacks on Palestine’s civilian health foundations undermine the people-led health care services. Likewise, the violations against HWC, Odeh and Aboudi are IOF’s abject display of aggression against the entire Palestinian people. HWC played a significant role in the provision of much-needed health care services among the people of occupied Palestinian territory. For over 36 years and amid conflict, HWC persisted in its role to provide essential services to vulnerable communities heavily targeted by IOF. HWC worked hard to provide Palestinians striving to live in occupied territory marred by unparalleled restrictions that perpetually impeded their safe access to basic human rights including the right to health.
The Palestinian peoples’ struggle for health and a better society strongly resonates with us in the Philippines. Amid a health system that is at its breaking point and an economy in perpetual crisis, health and humanitarian workers face threats and risk lives on a daily basis. Instead of recognizing our work to bridge the gaps, keep the government in check, and provide much needed services, we are tagged as terrorists. Many of our friends, families and colleagues have been killed or abducted because of ‘red-tagging’. Offices of civil society organizations have likewise been raided and planted with evidence or are under constant threat of being attacked. Bank accounts of non-governmental organizations and peace advocates have been frozen because the government accused them of links to terrorists.
Indeed, the struggle for a just and free country binds peoples of oppressed nations. May the call to immediately and unconditionally free Shatha Odeh and all political prisoners in Palestine and the Philippines reverberate with all peace-loving individuals around the world and snowball to a global outcry for justice.
We salute HWC and all humanitarian workers in Palestine. We are one with you in calling for the respect of provisions enshrined in international humanitarian and human rights laws to ensure respect for and protection of health services and health workers to perform their responsibilities. We implore international humanitarian mechanisms to conduct immediate and impartial investigation of the occupation forces’ violations.
We call for the immediate release of Shatha Odeh and the halt to all forms of judicial harassment, arbitrary arrests and detention, and all forms of violations on rights and liberties of health, humanitarian and rights workers in Palestine.
As Shatha would often say: “No matter what they do to me, I will continue. Because I am doing the right thing. I am fighting for justice and human rights.”
Alliance of Health Workers
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan
Climate Change Network for Community-Based Initiatives
Coalition for People’s Right to Health
Community Health Education, Services, and Training in the Cordillera Region
Community Medicine Practitioners and Advocates Association
Cordillera Human Rights Alliance
Cordilleran Youth Center
Council for Health and Development
Health Action for Human Rights
Health Alliance for Democracy
Karapatan Alliance Philippines
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas
Nagkakaisang Nars ng Bayan (United Nurses of the People)
People’s Health Movement – Philippines
Philippine Medical Students Association
Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes, Inc.
Philippines Palestinian Friendship Association