Netherlands probes death threats against Palestinian rights advocate

© Ammar Awad
In the first reported case of the kind, Dutch prosecutors are investigating death threats to a Hague-based Palestinian rights advocate, implicating Israel as a likely culprit due to sophisticated tactics and hacking used. Israel dismisses its involvement.

Nada Kiswanson, a Jordanian-Swedish citizen who is a researcher at Palestinian rights group Al-Haq, has been bombarded with numerous intimidating messages for the last half year. 

Kiswanson studied in the Netherlands and has been residing with her husband and daughter near The Hague. The threats are said to be targeted at the rights advocate over her input in The Hague-based ICC’s inquiry into Gaza war crimes.

The death threats she receives are composed in Dutch, English as well as “broken Arabic,” and relate to her contribution to the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into mutual violations of the code of war during the 50 days of the Israel-Gaza military conflict in July-August 2014.

“My channels of communication have been totally compromised,” Kiswanson said as quoted by Reuters, noting that the death threats have been sent to her in various forms and even through her family members living in Sweden and Jordan.  

Apart from “conventional” threats she regularly receives on her mobile phone and email, the intimidating messages also came attached to the flowers delivered to Kiswanson’s home.

The activist’s attempt to get rid of constant threats by changing the phone number did not bear any fruit. The next day after she bought a prepaid mobile phone card, Kiswanson received a call from the same perpetrator as before.

The intricate character and scope of the threats made the prosecutors suggest that Israel’s security services could be behind the campaign, although, there are still “various scenarios” possible, said Simon Minks, leading prosecutor in the case, as cited by Dutch NRC newspaper. 

Minks’s areas of professional interests include international criminal cases as well as terrorism.

The investigation is now at full swing with several international assistances requests being already submitted.

“We are taking this very seriously,” the lawyer stressed.

Israeli authorities have refused to comment on their alleged involvement in the case, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon denouncing the allegations as “preposterous.” 

In the course of the investigation, Kiswanson’s wellbeing is being protected by the Dutch authorities. The Dutch Foreign Ministry, Security and Justice Ministry, as well as National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism are overseeing the situation, according to NRC. 

The ICC, which counts human rights lawyers such as Kiswanson as a valuable source of information, has urged the Dutch authorities to “take all necessary steps and to ensure that the Court takes the threat seriously,” the court’s spokesman said in a statement, adding that as a host country, the Netherlands, must protect NGO workers. The court launched a preliminary investigation into the alleged war crimes committed in the Gaza conflict in 2015.

The Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), a non-governmental organization, comprising 2,500 NGOs assisting the ICC’s work, also called on the Dutch authorities to decry the threats.

“Those striving to bring justice to all who suffer from genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes are crucial to the defense of human rights,” said CICC’s representative William Pace, as cited by i24news.

One of the threats was sent from the hacked account of a local Amnesty International employee, leading to a temporary shutdown of Amnesty’s office in The Hague.

At least 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians lost their lives to the warfare, a third of whom were children, according to the UN report into the conflict from June 2015. On the Israeli side, the death toll is believed to be substantially lower with 67 IDF soldiers and six civilians killed. 

The authors of the report accused both Israel and the Hamas of committing war crimes and issued recommendations advising Israeli officials complicit in the crimes to be prosecuted, drawing harsh response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel’s leader accused the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) commission of bias dubbing them a “hypocritical committee.”

“The UN Human Rights Council is not interested in the facts and is not really interested in human rights,” he said at the time. 

The resolution accepting the report was ratified by the UN Human Rights Council in July 2014 with only the US representative voting against.