Israel: Frontal Assault on Palestinian NGOs

Mustafa Ibrahim –
Palestinian Human Rights Activist
The reason for the Israeli decision to designate six Palestinian NGOs as “terror organizations “is arguably due to their determination to hold Israeli officials accountable at International Criminal Court in The Hague. This includes Minister of Defense Benny Gantz, accused of committing war crimes in Gaza. 

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on October 19 classified six well known Palestinian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as “terror organizations,” accusing them of being part of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). His decision sparked a storm of condemnation from Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organizations. 

The six organizations are: the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, Defense for Children International – Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and al-Haq, which is the oldest Palestinian human rights organization. 

All of them are registered at the Palestinian Ministry of Interior in accordance with the Law on Charitable Associations and Civil Society Organizations and are subject to oversight by the ministry.

The decision to ban the six NGOs is the culmination of decades of Israeli policy trying to control the Palestinian people and undermining independent civil society organizations working to defend Palestinian human rights, especially the inalienable right to self-determination.

The ban is yet another step in the process of destroying Palestinian civil society and preventing it from exposing Israeli crimes and human rights violations against the Palestinian people. It is a kind  of bullying without limits, which is illustrated by the near total impunity of Israeli officers and officials. 

The decision follows the racist campaign of incitement led by the notorious Israeli organization NGO Monitor, which supervises Palestinian institutions to provide information to the relevant Israeli ministries.The designation of the Palestinian NGOs as “terrorist” is nothing but a false allegation that aims to delegitimize them and cancel their (foreign) funding.

The reason for the Israeli decision lies arguably in the NGO’s activities and professionalism, and especially in their perseverance to go to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to hold Israeli officials accountable, including minister Gantz himself, who stands accused of committing war crimes in the Gaza Strip.

Several Israeli human rights organizations have declared solidarity and support for their Palestinian counterparts, describing the decision as an insult, while emphasizing “their relationship with the Palestinian organizations is based on joint action to expose the racist policies of the occupation.” 

For example, the Israeli organization Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) expressed its solidarity and demanded Gantz to retract the ban. “We work with Palestinian human rights organizations and will continue to do so and resolve inappropriate political persecution against organizations that work tirelessly to protect human rights,” PHR stated.

Israeli activists see the latest move, which governments led by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not dare take, as an allout assault on the Palestinian right to self-determination.It is an attempt to criminalize any independent Palestinian gatherings and action by targeting civil society groups in the West Bank, which play a crucial role in defending human rights and providing social services. 

The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel stated that the use of anti-terrorism laws only serves as a legal cover for political prosecution, which characterizes any colonial or tyrannical regime. It is an unprecedented attack against anyone defending human rights and resisting Israeli occupation and apartheid in the West Bank. According to a statement by the Israeli Ministry of Justice, headed by Minister Gideon Sa’ar, a rightwing extremist who does not support a two- state solution, the six NGOs are linked to the PFLP and received over “200 million Euro” from several European countries between 2014 and 2021.

“Dozens of officials in these institutions are linked to the PFLP in various ways,” according to the statement. “Some were even involved in the murder of a young woman, Rina Shenraff. However, previous governments for years ignored the facts.”For years Israel has conducted a massive campaign against Palestinian NGOs and human rights defenders within the European Union in an attempt to cut off their funding.

To do so, it established the so-called Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy, as well as a special committee tasked with eliminating the global boycott Israel movement known as BDS. It allocated a annual budget of some $40 million to fight any attempt to delegitimize Israel.

In 2018, Gilad Erdan, former Israeli Minister Minister of Public Security and Minister of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy, claimed that the European Union funds the BDS movement, while “ignoring clear evidence that the organizations that receive funding from it, directly or indirectly, cooperate with terrorist organizations such as Hamas and the PFLP.”

“The accusations regarding the European Union’s support for incitement or terrorism are baseless and unacceptable, and the report itself is inappropriate and misleading,” the European Union’s foreign minister Federica Mogherini, responded in the time. “It mixes terrorism with the boycott issue, and creates an unacceptable state of confusion in the eyes of the public.”

Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International work closely with most of the banned NGOs and issued a joint statement. According to them, the decision to classify the six Palestinian NGOs as “terror organizations,” is based on a 2016 Israeli statute that “effectively outlaws the activities of these civil society groups.” 

Adding: “It authorizes Israeli authorities to close their offices, seize their assets and arrest and jail their staff members, and it prohibits funding or even publicly expressing support for their activities. This appalling and unjust decision is an attack by the Israeli government on the international human rights movement.” 

“For decades, Israeli authorities have systematically sought to muzzle human rights monitoring and punish those who criticize its repressive rule over Palestinians,” the joint statement continued. “While staff members of our organizations have faced deportation and travel bans, Palestinian human rights defenders have always borne the brunt of the repression.” 

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