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Free Shatha Odeh

Shatha Odeh, Palestine

*Update of Shatha Odeh as of (June 3, 2022)    
After spending almost a year in illegal detention, Ms. Shatha Odeh was released to her family on June 3, 2022 (IAHP, 2021). She was given a 5-year suspended sentence, on the condition that she would not provide health services to people, and a USD 9.000 fine. Because of this, Ms. Odeh can no longer hold the position of director at the Health Work Committees.

Women fight the push back of their rights in the occupied Palestinian territory  

1. Who is Shatha Odeh?    
Shatha Odeh, 60 years old and mother of three, is the Director of Health Work Committees (Odeh, 2021). Shatha Odeh is a nurse and a Palestinian health, human and women’s rights activist, the Head of the Palestinian NGOs Network and is also an active member of the Global Steering Council of the People’s Health Movement (PHM) (Front, 2022), (Hanbali, 2022, p. 31) and (Odeh, 2021). These committees aimed to provide health aid to Palestinians while simultaneously addressing the systematic neglect and violence of Israel’s colonial system; the organization promotes a more holistic view of health, considering economic, political and social circumstances when providing primary health care services and public health (Hanbali, 2022, p. 31).    


2. What Happened?    
Shatha Odeh, Director of Health Work Committees, an organization dedicated to providing health care services to Palestinians in the West Bank through several health care centers and hospitals, was arrested on July 7, 2021 (Hanbali, 2022, p. 33). At 2AM, fifteen to twenty Israeli soldiers stormed Shatha Odeh’s home, seeking information linking her to an incident involving a car accident involving a HWC (Health Work Committee) vehicle (Hanbali, 2022, p. 33). No warrant was issued to permit entry of her home. Under the guise of being sympathetic to her circumstances and asking questions about a car accident, Israeli forces transported her to the Israeli Military Camp in Ramallah, where she was held without charge for nineteen days (Hanbali, 2022, p. 33). Shatha Odeh was interrogated for nine hours straight. Her family was not given updates (Front, 2022). Charges were finally filed July 26, 2021; Shatha was accused of nothing in relation to the car accident that served as the premise for detaining her in the first place. Instead, she was accused of “holding a position in an illegal organization, being present at an illegal public event (a public memorial service to Palestinian politician Ribhi Mhanna on May 15, 2019), [being] responsible for transferring illegitimate funds into West Bank, [and] using fraudulent methods to obtain funds and forging documents” (Hanbali, 2022, p. 33).    
After ten months of detention, and several military court hearings (conducted in Hebrew with no adequate Arabic translation provided for Shatha Odeh), Shatha Odeh was sentenced on May 12, 2022, by the Ofer Military Court (Hanbali, 2022, p. 34). She would be incarcerated for sixteen months, although this could be avoided if she agreed to provide no health services for five years and pay a fine of roughly $9,000 (Hanbali, 2022, p. 34).    
Many of these charges framed HWC, the most important civil society health organization in the West Bank providing health services to around 400.000 Palestinians per year, as an illegal organization operating under false pretenses. Founded in 1985, the HWC operated two Palestinian hospitals in the occupied West Bank as well as dozens of clinics, including in remote rural areas (Hanbali, 2022, p. 33). HWC has been subjected to continual harassment before and after Shatha’s arrest, most recently shuttered as part of an Israeli raid on seven Palestinian civil society and human rights organisations in August, 2022 (Al Jazeera, 2022) and (Hanbali, 2022, p. 33). During the dawn military raids on the organizations in Ramallah, Israeli military forces shuttered these organizations’ offices after ransacking them and seizing equipment (Hanbali, 2022, p. 33).    
Mary Lawlor, Special United Nations Rapporteur for Human Rights wrote “I am shocked that members of the Health Work Committee, who provide health services to Palestinians living in remote areas of the West Bank, were arrested, interrogated and may be criminalized because of their human rights work” (Arrests, 2021). It was alleged Shatha Odeh and her coworker Sánchez were mistreated during imprisonment, especially with Shatha Odeh’s chronic health conditions (Arrests, 2021). Mary Lawlor pleads to Israel for their immediate release, worrying for Shatha Odeh in response to the many allegations of mistreatment to the women’s rights defenders (i.e. no access to clean clothes and inadequate medication) (Arrests, 2021).    

3. How did the arrest of Ms. Odeh impact the right to health of the Palestinian people?    
Currently, the network of facilities operated by the Health Work Committees provide critical health infrastructure. The arrest of Ms. Shatha Odeh is just one of the many ways Israel is harassing, intimidating and attacking the Health Work Committees. Project coordinator Juani Rishmawi was arrested in April 2021, head accountant Tayseer Abu Sharbak was also arrested in 2021. The arrests of director Shatha Odeh and two other HWC staff members are part of a bigger attack against the health organization. In 2020 Israel declared HWC an illegal organization, the headquarters were raided by Israeli Occupying Forces several times, etc. This all had a dramatic impact on the health organization and its health services, as the HWC is one of the major sources of health services for Palestininans and women’s health (Arrests, 2021). From 2013 HWC had a 60% drop in the amount of grants and donations, having to cancel or put on hold several health programs (the mobile clinics, health programs in Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem, …). Several donors backed out during the last couple of years, frightened by the continuous Israeli harassment and the stigmatization campaign. The true impact of several health programs being halted on the right to health of several Palestinian groups cannot be underestimated.    

4. The campaign for the liberation of Ms. Shatha Odeh    
The Shatha PHM online gallery-case had 1 campaign goal:

  • The liberation of Ms. Shatha Odeh. 

To achieve this objective, PHM implemented a variety of campaign-activities. A few days after the initial arrest, Shatha Odeh’s family appealed to the United Nations and the People’s Health Movement (PHM) appealed to the United Nations and World Health Organization (WHO) pleading for the release, intervention and immediate release of Shatha Odeh (Singh, 2021).

The PHM task force for the release of Ms. Shatha Odeh launched a campaign, including: