Ramallah, occupied West Bank – On October 22, Israel designated six prominent Palestinian human rights and civil society groups as “terrorist” organizations.
The designation was widely condemned by the international community and rights groups as “unjustified” and “without foundation”.
Five of the organizations are Palestinian: the Addameer Prisoners’ Rights group; Al-Haq Rights Group; the Committees of the Union of Palestinian Women (UPWC); the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC); and the Bisan Center for Research and Development.
The sixth is the Palestine chapter of the Geneva-based Defense for Children International.
Some of the organizations carry out critical human rights work, including documenting Israeli human rights abuses, providing legal assistance to detainees, advocating locally and internationally, and collaborating with the International Criminal Court. (CPI) and the United Nations.
Others, like the UAWC, provide practical help to the Palestinians, including rehabilitating land at risk of confiscation and helping tens of thousands of farmers in Area C, the more than 60 percent of the occupied West Bank under direct Israeli military control. and where all illegal Israeli settlements and settlement infrastructure are located.
Civil society organizations, which get most of their funding from donor states, are a key pillar in the social and economic development of the Palestinians living in the territories occupied in 1967.
Israel’s October 22 move came under the pretext that these groups are affiliated with the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), claiming that they “constitute an arm of the [PFLP] leadership, whose main activity is the liberation of Palestine and the destruction of Israel ”. The armed wing of the PFLP acted as an organized body during the Second Intifada and carried out attacks against Israeli targets.
The Israeli government did not provide evidence to support its claims about the six organizations.
The designation “authorizes the Israeli authorities to close their offices, confiscate their assets, and arrest and imprison members of their staff, and prohibits funding or even publicly expressing support for their activities,” according to a statement by human rights groups Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Members of designated “terrorist” organizations can be criminally charged for their membership or affiliation with the group.
On Tuesday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet described the decision as an “attack on human rights defenders, freedoms of association, opinion and expression and the right to public participation, and must be revoked immediately.”
“Counter-terrorism legislation should not apply to legitimate human rights and humanitarian work,” Bachelet said, adding that the groups “face far-reaching consequences as a result of this arbitrary decision, as do the people who fund and work with them. “. . “
in a statement On Wednesday signed by more than 250 local, regional and international rights groups, the signatories said the Israeli move “comes in the context of the continued occupation and attacks by the apartheid state on the rights of the Palestinian people, especially their right to fight, in all its forms, for freedom, return, self-determination and the construction of their independent Palestinian state ”.
Defamation and underfunding campaigns
Some of the target groups have said that the “terrorist” designation is the latest part of Israel’s long-standing efforts to stifle the work and voices of Palestinian civil society organizations and human rights groups.
Since 1967, Israel has forbidden more than 400 local and international organizations for being “hostile” or “illegal”, including the main Palestinian political parties, with them the ruling Palestinian Authority Fatah party and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), with which Israel signed the 1993 Oslo Accords.
The Israeli authorities have also imposed these designations on dozens of Palestinian charities and media, and used them to raid their offices, issue orders to close them, carry out arrests and detain people, and to try regularly people for working exercising basic civil rights and / or for criticizing the Israeli occupation.
These groups have long been the target of smear, smear and underfunding campaigns by Israeli and international lobby groups such as NGO Monitor and UK Lawyers for Israel, in cooperation with the Israeli government with which they have close links.
The smear campaigns have also led to further tightening of funding restrictions by donor states amid claims of “terrorism” and “anti-Semitism.”
In early 2020, the European Union (EU) announced additional “anti-terrorism” clauses for financing contracts provided to civil society organizations in Palestine, imposing stricter investigation and scrutiny processes.
The Palestinian National Campaign to Refuse Conditional Funding was formed immediately after development, condemning the decision for having “dramatic consequences as it lays the foundation for a widespread screening and vetting system for the entire Palestinian civil society.”
“These political conditions have crippled the scope for Palestinian civil society, disempowered the Palestinian people and reinforced the political status quo, undermining Palestinian claims of their legitimate human rights,” the Badil Resource Center wrote in a position. the Palestinian Residence and the Rights of Refugees. document in April 2020.
Badil said that in the context of the post-9/11 era, “counterterrorism” legislation is now “used as a weapon to stifle Palestinian civil society and encroach on the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.”
“The danger in this is that these laws are becoming international; they are trying, through this ‘war on terror’ that the United States invented, to create all these restrictions, “Francis told Al Jazeera. “Israel used this law to corner these countries and say: ‘I am fighting with you, against terrorism.’
In July 2020, the Dutch government announced that it would suspend funding for the UAWC, one of six selected organizations, pending review.
And, earlier this month, Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip protested against a new two-year framework signed between the United Nations Refugee Agency for Palestine (UNRWA) and the United States government, which introduced clauses. “anti-terrorists” on funding and provisions on monitoring of school curricula.
However, critics say the labeling of six organizations as “terrorist” entities is a dangerous escalation.
While Israel enforced a severe military law and a military court system in the occupied West Bank, it used a national criminal law to criminalize the organizations listed on October 22.
“This is not legal. Israel has no authority to enforce this law in the occupied West Bank, ”Francis said.
In 2019, a derivative of the “anti-terrorism” law was issued as a military order for the occupied West Bank..
He said Israel’s use of national criminal law in this case is part of its strategy to instill fear in donors and go beyond the limitations of military law that donors might dismiss as a simple extension of the occupation. .
“It’s about scaring donors and having a legal card against every international party that tries to keep us close or support us financially,” Sahar Francis, director of Ramallah-based Addameer, told Al Jazeera.
“Now, Israel can sue any party that gives us money, that’s the goal,” he continued.
The 104-page “anti-terrorism law” was issued in June 2016 and includes provisions on the financing of “terrorism”. It establishes prison terms of between five and 25 years for the staff and members of designated organizations, provides for the confiscation of assets and the closure of the organization.
He also introduced new crimes such as the public expression of support for “terrorist” organizations with between three and five years in prison.
At the time of its publication, the legislation was described primarily as a threat to the 1.8 million Palestinians living within Israel, but could threaten donations to humanitarian groups in the West Bank or Gaza by framing them as aid to “terror.”
Adalah, the leading Palestinian legal advocacy group in Israel, said At that time the law “paints the political activities and expression of Arabs in Israel – including those of a social, humanitarian and charitable nature – with a hostile and warlike facade, reclassifying them as acts of terror.”
Francis said Israel’s use of “anti-terrorism” law in its appointments was the most drastic move yet, after years of pressure on Palestinian civil society.
“These organizations have been suffering from this attack for many years; It didn’t work for Israel, so they called us terrorists. And in this way, they have the legal tools to force countries to comply ”.