Defense Minister Benny Gantz declared six Palestinian human rights groups terrorist organizations in 2021, however, several European countries claim Israel had failed to prove these allegations.
The Israeli army raided the offices of several prominent Palestinian human rights organizations in the West Bank on Thursday, groups which it had declared illegal over alleged links to terrorism back in October, sealing their doors and leaving official notices declaring them illegal.
Al-Haq, one of the most prominent human rights groups in the West Bank that works to prosecute Israel in the International Criminal Court in The Hague, reported that Israeli soldiers stormed its Ramallah offices and left a military order declaring the organization outlawed. “They came, blew up the door, got inside, and messed with the files,” Shawan Jabarin, director of Al-Haq told The Associated Press.
He added that whilst nothing was confiscated from his organization’s offices, other groups have reported that their offices were completely cleaned out.
“The incursion into the church is fully and totally condemned, not only by us, I’m sure by the whole peace-lovers in the world, and by the whole who call for freedom for the Palestinian people,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said during a visit to Al-Haq’s office inside Ramallah’s St. Andrews Evangelical Church.
“These organizations have worked hard with us in the spirit of partnership to take Israel to the international criminal court for what they have done against our people in Gaza, in the West Bank, in Jerusalem, everywhere,” Shtayyeh added.
Three additional organizations, Addameer, Bisan Research Center and the Union of Palestinian Committees, were also raided. Addameer reported that Israeli forces broke down its office doors and confiscated material.
The UN Human Rights office released a statement condemning Israel’s raid and “arbitrary closure” of the seven human organizations, calling on Israel to reverse their designation of them as “unlawful” and “terrorist.”
The European Union also responded by saying “Past allegations of misuse of EU funds in relation to certain Palestinian CSOs have not been substantiated. The EU will continue to stand by international law and support CSOs that have a role to play in promoting international law, human rights, and democratic values.”
Last October, the Defense Ministry claimed that six Palestinian organizations were part of a funding network operated by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed an order declaring Addameer, Al-Haq, the Bisan Center for Research & Development, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees as terrorist organizations. All six groups deny the charge.
Gantz’s office reiterated its rationale for the government’s approach to the groups on Wednesday, saying “the organizations operate under the guise of performing humanitarian activities to further the goals of the PFLP terrorist organization, to strengthen the organization and to recruit operatives.”
The Union of Health Committees, the seventh of the organizations, was outlawed as early as 2020. Last year, the organization’s fundraiser Juana Rashmawi signed a plea bargain for offenses against Israeli law. The military court in the Ofer military prison in the West Bank emphasized later this week that Rashmawi, a Spanish citizen — who was convicted of raising funds that were transferred to the Popular Front organization — was not aware of or affiliated with the activities of the other six Palestinian organizations.
Michael Sfard, the lawyer who represents Al-Haq, denounced the raid as a “despicable act by the Defense Minister meant to thwart the investigation in The Hague (in which [Gantz] may be a suspect himself) while behaving like the last of the dictators acting against prominent human rights defenders with the power of the gun.
“Let’s recall that this is all happening after the government failed to convince the European countries who one by one determined that there is no basis for the accusations against the organizations. An urgent international intervention is needed to protect Palestinian human rights defenders from the Israeli dictatorship.”
The IDF spokesperson announced that Israeli soldiers and border police raided what it termed as Palestinian groups that form part of a network run by the PFLP, declared a terror organization by Israel. According to the statement, security forces shut down seven institutions and confiscated material belonging to the groups. Soldiers dispersed several demonstrators who reportedly threw stones and Molotov cocktails at them.
Jabarin said “neighbors and strangers” who were nearby during Thursday’s raid had opened the office in Ramallah as soon as the Israeli forces left, and that al-Haq’s staff were inside and resuming their work.
“We don’t take permission from any Israeli military or political official. We are proceeding, encouraged by our belief in the accountability and the international law,” he said.
In a response on behalf of Addameer, the Bisan Center and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Comittees, the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel issued a statement noting that 10 European countries have not found a basis for the Israeli allegations.
“Israel continues to persecute Palestinian human rights activists … with the clear aim of silencing any criticism of it. The effort is being led by a defense minister who is suspected of committing war crimes, who is working as head of a crime organization in an attempt to threaten those who would testify regarding his actions.
Thursday’s early morning raids represent a serious escalation just one month after the country’s Defense Ministry demanded that lawyers representing the six Palestinian NGOs receive official permission from the finance and defense ministers to represent the organizations, or face a prison sentence of up to seven years.
The new requirement came just two days ahead of a hearing on the legality of the decision to outlaw the organizations. Sfard said it was “extremely difficult to avoid interpreting it [the demand] as a government threat made against a lawyer engaging in entirely legal work.”
In the face of Israeli moves to shutter the organizations, several European countries issued a joint statement last month saying they will continue working with them because Israel had failed to prove its claim that they should be considered terrorist organizations.
Jabarin stated that “Israel wants to send a message to the Europeans that they will not respect their statement and continue to silence us … to say that we are not allowed to cooperate with the International Court, that they are the sovereign and that no one will protect us. We will continue to protect the rights of the people and the rule of law, we act according to the law and in the name of human rights.”