Palestinian groups labeled Israeli terrorists say they are silencing
The leaders of the six Palestinian organizations that Israel has branded as terrorist groups say the measure will harm human rights unless reversed.
Israel declared last week that the groups were a front for a militant group that has made deadly attacks against it since the 1960s.
Israeli envoys with access to secret intelligence were scheduled to arrive in Washington this week to explain the decision.
It shocked international donors and divided Israel’s own ruling alliance.
The six groups identified were:
Defense for Children International – Palestine
Bisan Research and Development Center
Association of Agricultural Work Committees
Association of Palestinian Women’s Committees
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz accused groups – all of whom receive foreign aid – of channeling funds to the Palestinian Liberation People’s Front (PFLP), an accusation they strongly oppose.
The PFLP, a small left-wing group that does not recognize the state of Israel, carried out several armed attacks and hijackings of aircraft in the 1960s and 70s. It was also behind several suicide attacks during the second Palestinian intifada (uprising) in the early 2000s.
“This is a ridiculous story, a ridiculous accusation,” al-Haq leader Shawan Jabarin said, implying that Israel has failed to silence human rights groups challenging the occupation of the Palestinian territories by other means.
“I think it’s the last bullet in their hands and this is a political bullet because it has no legal basis and no security base. I challenge them to prove what they said,” he added.
Al-Haq is the most established Palestinian human rights group, routinely highlighting the abuses of Israel, the Israeli-occupied West Bank Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestinian Islamist group ruling Gaza, Hamas.
Group leaders spoke on Friday at an online event hosted by Human Rights Watch, the Carter Center and others.
“They are trying to legitimize us to make the international community afraid to communicate with us,” said Sahar Francis, director of Addameer, which promotes the rights of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, adding that it would have the greatest impact on working with Israeli NGOs and individuals.
As Israel has now effectively banned the groups, their offices can in principle be closed, their property confiscated and their staff detained.
The U.S. State Department said it had not been informed in advance of the terrorist designation and was asking Israel to explain its reasons.
U.S. spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday: “We believe that respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and a strong independent civil society are of the utmost importance to democracy,” which some interpret as a rebuke.
The European Union said it takes the Israeli movement “very seriously” and intends to ask the Israeli authorities for more information in a statement on Thursday.
The EU is taking “utmost care” to avoid funding or supporting terrorist groups, the statement said Israel’s previous allegations of misuse of EU funds by Palestinian civil society groups “have not been proven”.
The decision of the Israeli Ministry of Defense has been strongly condemned by the United Nations, Israeli human rights groups and also by international human rights groups.
The PA has condemned it as a “serious violation of international law.”
Despite harsh criticism, Gantz and high security officials have not faltered. An official who spoke to the Israeli news site Walla said intelligence data from the organizations had been gathered in “iron suits,” including “indisputable evidence such as videos, photographs, receipts of remittances, and more,” showing direct links to the PFLP.
However, the defense minister has continued to come under fire from the Israeli government – a fragile eight-party alliance that relies on the support of left-wing politicians.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, who heads Dovish Meretz, warned that as an occupying military force, Israel must be “very careful in imposing sanctions on Palestinian organizations because of their political, diplomatic and, most importantly, human rights implications.”
Labor leader and transport minister Merav Michaeli said the way the announcement was made “caused great harm to Israel with our biggest and most important friends”.