Israeli government brands human rights groups ‘terrorists’
Israeli government brands human rights groups ‘terrorists’

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz declared six prominent Palestinian NGOs and human rights groups “terror organisations” in October. They include the oldest Palestinian human rights organisation, Al-Haq, which was established in 1979, as well as two political prisoner advocacy groups: Addameer and Defence for Children International-Palestine. The latter campaigns specifically for the rights of Palestinian child political prisoners.

The three other groups are Bisan Centre for Research and Development, which advocates for social justice, democracy, equality, human rights and good governance; the United Agricultural Workers Committees, which represent peasant farmers; and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees, a progressive feminist organisation founded in 1980, which opposes all forms of discrimination and advocates democracy and an end to Israel’s military occupation.

According to an editorial in the Jerusalem Post on 23 October, which cited a document issued by Israel’s Justice Ministry, the organisations have been declared “an arm of the terrorist organization the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine”. Gantz’s order gives the military the legal cover to close their offices, seize their assets and jail their staff members for up to 25 years. The designation also bans acts of support for the organisations—including financial aid or publishing words in “praise, support or sympathy”—under the threat of five years’ imprisonment.

The Israeli government is yet to provide any concrete credible evidence to support its claims. The Jerusalem Post editorial pointed out that neither Gantz nor the government had provided the media with any evidence “to prove the charges being levelled against the groups”.

In a follow-up report the following day, the Post’s intelligence, terrorism and legal analyst Yonah Jeremy Bob also noted the lack of evidence. On 4 November, independent Israeli journalists Yuval Abraham, Oren Ziv and Meron Rapoport reported on the contents of a 74-page classified dossier compiled by Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, which was the basis of the terrorism declaration against the six organisations.

Published simultaneously in Israel and the US by three independent news sites—+972 Magazine, Sikha Mekomit (Local Call) and the Intercept—the report outlines the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s efforts to use the dossier to convince representatives of several European countries to stop funding the six organisations. The investigative report, however, notes that “at least five of the European countries [approached by Israel] said that the dossier did not contain any ‘concrete evidence’, and thus decided to continue financially supporting the organizations”.

Abraham, Ziv and Rapoport explained that the dossier sent to the Europeans was “based almost entirely” on Shin Bet’s interrogation and torture of two Palestinian accountants who worked for the Health Work Committees, a Palestinian NGO not listed in Gantz’s announcement. Both men had been previously fired by the Health Work Committees for financial malpractice. “Contrary to the Israeli Defense Ministry’s claim”, Abraham, Ziv and Rapoport wrote, “the dossier did not provide a single piece of evidence proving the six organizations diverted their funds to the [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] or to violent activities”.

At a joint press conference in Ramallah on 23 October, Palestinian civil society organisations condemned the Israeli attack and called on the international community to stand with Palestine by joining the #StandWithThe6 solidarity campaign. At the press conference, Addameer’s general director, Sahar Francis, said that the designations were a reprisal for the successful work being carried out by Palestinian human rights groups and the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, and the ongoing resilience of the Palestinian people.

Francis was joined by Al-Haq’s general director, Shawan Jabarin, who said: “We will continue our work as we used to do, as if there is no designation by the Israeli ministry”. Jabarin went on to challenge Israel and its military to “prove their claims about our work”.

Two days later, 24 Israeli human rights organisations also issued a statement denouncing Gantz’s actions as “a draconian measure that criminalizes critical human rights work” and “an act of cowardice, characteristic of repressive authoritarian regimes”. The statement went on to pledge to “stand in solidarity with our Palestinian colleagues”.

In the last two weeks, thousands of trade unions, human rights organisations, civil society groups and individuals from around the world have also joined the campaign to #StandWithThe6. In Australia, almost 80 organisation and 440 individuals have so far signed a community solidarity statement published the Australian Centre for International Justice in support of the six Palestinian organisations.

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