Israel threatens NGO directors with arrest, CIA finds no evidence of ‘terror’ claims

The office of the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees following an Israeli army raid, Ramallah, West Bank, August 18, 2022 (Oren Ziv)

Yumna Patel

Mondoweiss  /  August 23, 2022

Israel is escalating its attacks on Palestinian civil society and has threatened the directors of Al-Haq and DCIP with arrest following military interrogations. 

Days after the Israeli army raided and shuttered seven Palestinian civil society organizations, Israel is escalating its attacks on the groups, with Israeli intelligence officials reportedly threatening two of groups’ directors with arrest after calling them in for interrogation. 

On Sunday the directors of two of the organizations, Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP) and Al-Haq were called in by Israeli intelligence agents for interrogation at an Israeli military base in the occupied West Bank. 

DCIP’s director Khaled Quzmar received a call at 2:25pm on Sunday afternoon summoning him for interrogation at the Ofer military prison outside of Ramallah, the group said. Quzmar reported to the prison around one hour later, and according to DCIP, was not allowed to have legal representation accompany him inside. 

He was released after two hours. According to the group, during his interrogation he was warned that any work by his organization was now considered unlawful by the military, and could result in arrest and other legal actions against him. 

Separately, Al-Haq’s director Shawan Jabarin was also summoned by intelligence officials, though he did not submit himself for interrogation. According to Al-Haq, Jabarin was told by Israeli officers over the phone that he was “a member of a terror organization,” and that he would “pay the price” if he continued his work. 

On the same day that the offices were raided, DCIP’s Quzmar told Mondoweiss that the directors of the organizations had all received calls from Israeli intelligence officials, though the only person to answer was the director of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees. 

She was allegedly told that if she, or any of the other directors returned to their offices, they would be arrested and imprisoned. 

“The situation has now significantly deteriorated and the staff, of the six designated organizations, in particular Mr Shawan Jabarin and Mr Khaled Quzmar are under grave and immediate risk of arbitrary arrests, prosecutions on secret evidence, administrative detentions, and their financial and banking assets and those of the organizations are under threat of appropriation,” Al-Haq said in a letter to 80 states calling for action against Israel’s attacks on the groups. 

Both Al-Haq and DCIP are part of six Palestinian NGOs that were outlawed by Israel in 2021, after Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz accused the groups of being “terrorist institutions” with links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist-Leninist Palestinian political faction. 

Israel’s claims have been condemned by European Union states as lacking proof, who have since expressed their continued support for the groups, and by UN experts, who warned that the “misuse of counter-terrorism measures in this way by the government of Israel undermines the security of all.”

Attack on Palestinian civil society

Despite failing to provide sufficient evidence of its claims, Israel has continued to escalate its attacks against the organizations, which have vehemently denied the accusations against them. The organizations say the campaign is part of a wider effort to crack down on Palestinian civil society and individuals and organizations who are vocal about Israel’s human rights abuses. 

The six organizations that have been outlawed are Al-Haq, prisoners’ rights group Addameer, DCIP, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), The Bisan Center for Research and Development, and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.

Earlier this year Israel barred the directors of prisoners’ rights group Addameer and The Bisan Center for Research and Development from leaving the country to attend the World Social Forum in Mexico. 

During the August 18th Israeli military raid, soldiers welded the doors of the organizations’ offices shut, after confiscating materials and files belonging to the groups. 

The army military left orders at the offices warning that the groups were “unlawful” and were shut down in the name of “security in the region” and “to combat the infrastructure of terrorism.”

The orders also warned that “those administering the organization, must shut down the organization, refrain from managing it and keep it shut, from the moment of receipt of this order”.

The groups condemned the attack on their organizations, calling it  “a serious violation of the fundamental right to freedom of expression and association.”

CIA finds no evidence of terror claims 

Following Israel’s raid on the organizations, dozens of foreign states and independent organizations and human rights groups have come out in defense of the Palestinian NGOs, and in condemnation of the Israeli attacks. 

Immediately after the raid on Thursday, representatives from over a dozen countries went to the Al-Haq office as a show of support from the organizations. 

In a statement, the foreign ministries of Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden expressed “concern” over the raid, saying “we stand firm with the NGOs to uphold the right of freedom of expression and association.” The groups added that they have yet to receive sufficient evidence from Israeli authorities backing their claims. 

Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, expressed similar sentiment, saying that “the EU supports the call by the UN agencies on Israel to refrain from any action that would prevent these organizations from continuing their critical human rights, humanitarian and development work in the oPt.”

The EU supports the call by the UN agencies on Israel to refrain from any action that would prevent these organizations from continuing their critical human rights, humanitarian and development work in the oPt.

On Monday, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) said that it was also unable to find any evidence to support Israel’s “terror” claims. 

US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price expressed concern about the raids, but refused to condemn them, while a number of Democratic congressmen have called on the Biden Administration to take action.

Over 150 global human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, signed onto a letter demanding international action over Israel’s actions, which read: “The ‘persecution of organizations and persons, by depriving them of fundamental rights and freedoms, because they oppose apartheid’ is a method used by Israel, amounting to acts of apartheid prosecutable under the Rome Statute, to maintain its domination and oppression over the Palestinian people.”

Fifty-three Israeli civil society organizations also published a joint message of support and solidarity, saying that  criminalizing human rights groups “is a deplorable act characteristic of repressive regimes.”

Yumna Patel is the Palestine News Director for Mondoweiss