Take action and send emails to both US and EU leaders. Demand they pressure Israel to rescind the designation
On 19 October 2021, the Israeli Minister of Defense designated six Palestinian NGOs as “terrorist organizations”, placing them at imminent risk of arrest, prosecution, confiscation of financial assets and funding blockage. Join us in standing in solidarity with Palestinian human rights defenders, and send emails to US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, and Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to pressure Israel and oppose this decision unequivocally.
On 19 October 2021, the Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz announced the designation of six leading Palestinian civil society organizations (CSOs) as “terror organizations” under Israel’s domestic Anti-Terrorism Law (2016), effectively outlawing the organizations and placing them and their supporters at imminent risk of reprisals such as cutting off funding, office closure, and arrest of staff members.
On 3 November 2021, the Israeli Military Commander in the West Bank extended the designation to the West Bank, declaring five of the six organizations as "unlawful organizations" - UWAC had already been designated as such prior to the Ministry of Defense designation of 19 October.
Israel claims these groups are affiliated with the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), claiming they “constitute an arm of the [PFLP] leadership, the main activity of which is the liberation of Palestine and destruction of Israel”.
Since the announcement of the designation, Israel’s attack on Palestinian civil society has drawn widespread condemnation from the international community.
Commenting on the designation, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said, "claiming rights before a UN or other international body is not an act of terrorism, advocating for the rights of women in the occupied Palestinian territory is not terrorism, and providing legal aid to detained Palestinians is not terrorism," And confirmed that "counter-terrorism legislation must not be applied to legitimate human rights and humanitarian work
Addameer: a Palestinian non-governmental, civil institution founded in 1991 that supports Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli and Palestinian prisons. Addameer offers free legal aid to Palestinian political prisoners, advocates for their rights on a national and an international level, and works to end torture and other violations of prisoners' rights such as fair trial rights through monitoring, legal procedures and solidarity campaigns.
Al-Haq: a leading Palestinian human rights organisation founded in 1979 by Palestinian lawyers, which focuses on protecting and promoting human rights in Palestine through monitoring and documentation by way of advocacy before national and international mechanisms and by holding perpetrators of international crimes accountable. Al-Haq has special consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council.
Bisan Center for Research and Development: a civil society organization focused on enhancing Palestinians’ resilience and socio-economic rights, including workers, women, Palestinian youth, and poor and marginalized communities, and to contribute to building an effective democratic civil society.
Defence for Children International - Palestine: an independent, local Palestinian child rights organization dedicated to defending and promoting the rights of children living in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Since 1991, DCI-P has investigated, documented, and exposed grave human rights violations against children; provided legal services to children in urgent need; held Israeli and Palestinian authorities accountable to universal human rights principles; and advocated at the international and national levels to advance access to justice and protection for children.
Union of Agricultural Work Committees: is an independent agricultural developmental Palestinian organizaiton. UAWC was established in 1986 to improve the socio-economic situation of Palestinian farmers marginalized as a result of Israel’s occupation, and focuses on Palestinian sovereignty over their land and resources.
Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees: UPWC works to empower women to defend their socio-political and economic rights, and build civil democratic progressive community free of all forms of discrimination
This latest attack on Palestinian CSOs is part of a wider, long-running Israeli campaign to smear well-respected human rights defenders (HRDs) and stifle criticism of the Israeli government. The designated NGOs are renowned for their work documenting violations of international law (Al-Haq), protecting the rights of Palestinian political prisoners (Addameer), supporting marginalized Palestinian communities (Bisan), documenting Israel’s targeted attacks on Palestinian children (DCI-P), supporting Palestinian farmers (UAWC) and empowering Palestinian women (UPWC). These activities raise awareness of Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity and undermine the Israeli government’s attempts to whitewash its brutal occupation, human rights violations and discriminatory regime of apartheid
Israel’s anti-Palestinian civil society campaign has included repeated raids of NGO offices, defamation, attacks on funding, incitement to racial hatred, hate speech, violence, and death threats against staff members, with the ultimate goal to create a coercive environment and “shrinking space” to stop them from doing their work.
Prior to this designation, these smears have come in the form of three reports published by the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs in 2018 and 2019, including: “The Money Trail 1” (May 2018),11 “The Money Trail 2” (January 2019), and “Terrorists in Suits” (January 2019). Those reports contain a number of defamatory attacks against human rights organizations. Notably, these reports called on the European Union (EU) and European states to stop their support and funding to Palestinian and international human rights organizations that “have ties to terror and promote boycotts against Israel.”
However, the EU has thoroughly investigated these claims and dismissed them as “unsubstantiated.”As Addameer’s director Sahar Francis told +972, “We have been targeted for years, for one reason: we’re succeeding in changing the paradigm around the world by speaking of apartheid.” As Amnesty International puts it: “anyone who dares to speak out about Israeli human rights violations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories risks coming under attack.”
Israel introduced a controversial counter-terrorism law in 2016 giving the Defense Minister the authority to declare any group a “terrorist organization.” The law does not require transparency in how the decision was made, and the group usually does not get advance warning of its terrorist designation. If the organization petitions to contest the declaration, the defense minister, who made the declaration, decides whether to uphold or ignore the organization’s petition. Additionally, the law does not require the disclosure of “classified intelligence,” including to the targeted organization, making it difficult to contest the decision.
In this case, none of the six designated NGOs were given advance warning nor official notification of the Israeli announcement and none have been allowed to view any of the alleged “classified intelligence” against them.
The ramifications of this designation are far-reaching both from an organizational standpoint and for the employees themselves. The six targeted NGOs rely on donations to fund their work, in the most part from governments, foundations and individuals based outside of Palestine. According to the Israeli Counterterrorism Act of 2016, assisting or providing any service to banned organizations is punishable by five years’ imprisonment.
Sahar Francis, director of Addameer said, “This is about scaring donors and having a legal card against every international party that tries to keep us around or to support us financially.”
In the eyes of the law, this designation will transform staff members into members of a terrorist organization, regardless of the humanitarian work they actually do. As per the Counterterrorism Act of 2016, the punishment for membership of a designated organization is up to five years imprisonment. Furthermore, taking part “in the organization’s activity” or performing activities “on behalf of the organization” or “with the intention of promoting its activity” could carry a sentence of up to seven years in prison. Those in managerial positions could face up to fifteen years, and the directors of these NGOs could face up to twenty-five years.
Fady Khoury, Palestinian civil and political rights attorney at Adalah, said “it’s important to remember that the designation orders are based on classified evidence, to which the NGOs and the workers have no access. Therefore, in a criminal proceeding against workers of these NGOs, in which the designation order is considered as a piece of relevant evidence, the convictions would essentially be based on classified information that cannot be directly reviewed or challenged.”
Without support from these six NGOs, Palestinian communities will be even more vulnerable to Israeli attacks. These organizations do crucial and necessary work monitoring human rights abuses, representing prisoners, advocating for families facing displacement, defending individuals in Israeli courts, and shedding light on the realities on the ground.
Inès Abdel Razek, advocacy director at the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy (PIPD) said “these institutions are crucial in teaching the world about the Palestinian people and the crimes committed against them. Israel is now hoping to inflict the same erasure on these six organizations, whose work not only enriches Palestinian activism and identity, but also provide vital evidence for achieving future accountability.”
Israel’s designation constitutes the latest in an escalating series of smear attacks and institutionalized violence against defenders of the Palestinian people’s human rights and fundamental freedoms that form part of Israel’s strategy to maintain its apartheid regime of institutionalized racial discrimination and domination over the Palestinian people as a whole, by silencing HRDs.
The designation targets six of the most eminent Palestinian CSOs and HRDs engaged in critical human rights work in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), placing serious obstacles on their documentation and monitoring of human rights violations, accountability work to prosecute Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity, and legal and advocacy efforts to bring Israel’s occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid regime to an end.
It is not just Palestinian organizations who are targeted, in 2019 Israel expelled Omar Shakir, Director of Human Rights Watch, due to his work exposing Israel’s human rights abuses.
Article 13 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders stipulates that everyone has the right to solicit, receive and utilise resources to protect and promote human rights through peaceful means. While Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 9(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Israel is a State Party, guarantee to everyone the right not to be subjected to arbitrary detention. The harsh sentences in Israel’s Counterterrorism Act of 2016, of twenty-five years for heading or directing a designated “terror organization” alone, fifteen years for managing and five years for working in a so-called designated “terror organization”, places the Palestinian human rights defenders working in these organizations at extreme risk of arbitrary detention and abuse of process for conducting their human rights work. Furthermore, Israel’s Counterterrorism Act of 2016 does not require “classified evidence” to be made available to those on trial, increasing the risk of arbitrary detention and wrongful conviction of humanitarian workers.
The smear campaign has dramatically intensified since 2015, when the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination into the Situation in Palestine. Since then, the attacks and harassment campaigns, including deaths threats, have targeted staff members of the CSOs, that are the most actively engaging in international justice mechanisms, aiming at holding Israeli perpetrators accountable for violations of international law.
It is no coincidence that Israel’s recent escalation against Palestinian CSOs comes in the immediate aftermath of the opening of an ICC investigation into Israel’s crimes in the Situation in Palestine. Many of the targeted organizations have been in support of the ICC probe, and have provided consultation and guidance.
Palestinian HRDs have also been targeted with incitement to violence carried out by the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs online, notably on Facebook and other public platforms.
The Israeli authorities have themselves had recourse to incitement to violence. In March 2016, Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz called for engaging in “targeted civil eliminations” of Palestinian civil society leaders with the help of Israeli intelligence, “using language that deliberately evoked the Hebrew term for ‘targeted assassinations.’”
A recent investigation from Front Line Defenders discovered six phones belonging to Palestinian HRDs had been hacked using Pegasus spyware from Israeli company, NSO Group. The hacked phones belonged to employees of Al Haq, Bisan Center and Addameer. The terms of the export licenses the Defense Ministry gave NSO Group stipulate that only the Israeli security services are allowed to conduct surveillance of phones with Israeli telephone numbers, and that Israeli and Palestinian area codes must be blocked to any other NSO client.
A coalition of human rights defenders, including Human Rights Watch said, “surveillance of Palestinian human rights defenders violates their right to privacy, undermines their freedom of expression and association, and threatens their personal security and lives. It not only affects those directly targeted, but also has a chilling effect on advocates or journalists who may self-censor out of fear of potential surveillance.”
The designated NGOs have received strong support from the international community, including the US, UN and EU and internationally renowned humanitarian organizations
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet described the decision as an “attack on human rights defenders, on freedoms of association, opinion and expression and on the right to public participation, and should be immediately revoked”.
US State Department spokesperson, Ned Price, said “We believe that respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, and a strong, independent civil society – we believe they are critically important to democracy and to responsible and responsive governance. And so we are currently engaging our Israeli partners for more information regarding the basis for these designations.”
US Congresswoman Betty McCollum alongside nine co-sponsors introduced a resolution condemning Israel’s actions. She said “When a government uses the label of terrorist as a weapon to silence the work of human rights organizations and advocates who courageously represent vulnerable people living under military occupation, it is a sign of incredible weakness more aligned with an authoritarian regime than a healthy democracy.” McCollum continued “Israel’s decision to brand these prominent Palestinian civil society groups as terrorist organizations exposes the truth that Israel’s occupation is violent, immoral, and unjust, and that peaceful efforts to defend the rights of Palestinian children, women, farmers, or prisoners must be declared illegal.”
An EU spokesperson said, “Past allegations of the misuse of EU funds in relation to certain Palestinian CSO partners have not been substantiated. A thriving civil society and respect for fundamental freedoms are cornerstones of open democracies. Civil society is an essential contributor to good governance, human rights, international law, democratic values and sustainable development in the EU, in Israel, Palestine and elsewhere.”
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International released a joint statement, saying “This decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations. The decades-long failure of the international community to challenge grave Israeli human rights abuses and impose meaningful consequences for them has emboldened Israeli authorities to act in this brazen manner.”
The six Palestinian organizations recommend that the internationalcommunity, UN Member States and civil society:
1. Pressure Israel to urgently rescind the designations as acts which violate the freedoms of opinion and expression, and freedom of association, and amount to an acts of apartheid prosecutable under Article 7(2)(h) of the Rome Statute;
2. Publish a bulletin to banks and financial institutions, putting them on notice to dismiss as inapplicable, Israel’s terrorist designation of the six Palestinian organizations;
3. Communicate directly with, and recommend, that the European Union and Third States remove “terrorism” clauses as internal conditions placed on donor funding of civil society organizations in the occupied Palestinian territory;
4. Call on UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ms. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, to examine the compatibility of Israel’s Anti-Terrorism Law, 2016 with International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law;
5. Denounce the application of the Anti-Terrorism Law, 2016 to civil society organizations in the OPT as an overreaching of Israel’s domestic law to the OPT;
6. Call on Israel to repeal its Anti-Terrorism Law, 2016 effectively used to institutionalize the persecution of human rights defenders and entrench its colonial domination over the Palestinian people and their lands;
7. Urge Israel to immediately cease its systematic and ongoing policies and practices aimed at intimidating and silencing Palestinian civil society and human rights defenders, in breach of their right to freedom of expression, including through arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment, institutionalized hate speech and incitement, residency revocation, deportations, and other forms of coercive or punitive measures.
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