Israeli army shuts down prominent Palestinian rights groups

The PA Prime Minister pays a solidarity visit to Al-Haq, one of seven prominent groups raided by Israel (Shadi Hatem - APA Images)

Maureen Clare Murphy

The Electronic Intifada  /  August 18, 2022

Israeli occupation forces raided, sealed and imposed closure orders on the offices of several prominent Palestinian human rights, feminist and social services organizations in the West Bank early Thursday.

Hours earlier, soldiers shot in the chest and killed Wasim Nasser Khalifa, 18.

The teen was fatally injured during confrontations that erupted when Jewish worshippers, escorted by the Israeli military, infiltrated the northern West Bank city of Nablus to pray at Joseph’s Tomb. Thirty Palestinians were injured, two of them severely, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society.

The Israeli military frequently raids Nablus late at night to allow settlers to access the archaeological site that is considered sacred by Muslims, Christians and Jews.

Israeli soldiers sometimes shoot at Palestinians during those raids, injuring them with live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas. The army also imposes curfews and strict military closures on the city, disrupting people’s lives.

Israel raids prominent groups

Palestinians confronted Israeli soldiers that raided the offices of several human rights, feminist and social services organizations in the Ramallah area in the central West Bank early Thursday.

According to Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group, the Israeli military entered the Ramallah area at 3 am and raided its offices as well as those of Addameer, the Bisan Center for Research & Development, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.

Israel designated the six organizations “terrorist groups” late last year.

A seventh organization, the Union of Health Work Committees, was also reportedly raided on Thursday.

The designations have been denounced by UN experts and were rejected by nine European Union states that fund the targeted groups for lack of evidence substantiating Israel’s claims.

More than 20 members of US Congress have demanded that the Biden administration publicly reject the designations and pressure Israel to rescind the measures.

Instead, during his visit to Jerusalem last month, Biden pledged to shield Israel from accountability, including at the UN and International Criminal Court.

And instead of pressuring Israel to rescind the designations, the European Union’s 27 foreign ministers decided to resume meetings of the EU-Israel Association Council, a high-level forum.

And while nine EU members have rejected the Israeli allegations, the bloc’s headquarters in Brussels has pointedly refused to do so – despite Israel’s failure to back up its charges with evidence.

With no meaningful consequences imposed on Israel over the designations, and instead only rewards, Tel Aviv was seemingly emboldened to escalate its crackdown on the Palestinian groups.

Israeli forces “forcibly blasted through the locked security door of Al-Haq’s offices, bursting the door from its hinges and raiding the premises, setting off the alarms,” the rights group said on Thursday.

The military also broke the front door of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, located below Al-Haq’s offices, “leaving long shards of exposed broken glass, sponge-grenades, and several teargas canisters, rubber-coated and live bullets around the property.”

The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem said that soldiers occupied its entire complex, including “the church sanctuary, parish hall, church offices, rectory and the Arab Episcopal Medical Center.”

The diocese, which condemned the “flagrant attack,” added that “the sound of gunshots, stun grenades and the smashing of doors caused terror among the families living inside the compound.”

Al-Haq said that the Israeli army raided each room in its offices and rummaged through files and trashed its premises.

The army “welded a new reinforced iron door to the outside of Al-Haq’s office,” preventing entry. Soldiers also posted a military order commanding the closure of the office “for the safety and security of the area.”

Defense for Children International-Palestine said that soldiers took “client files related to Palestinian child detainees” that it represents in Israeli military courts.

Security camera footage shows that they also removed other equipment, though because occupation forces welded the door shut, “it is unclear exactly what items were confiscated,” DCIP said.

Israeli forces raided the child rights group’s offices in July last year and seized files and equipment.

Bisan, a Palestinian research group, said that the Israeli military had sealed its doors and posted “a military order declaring the organization unlawful.”

The Union of Agricultural Work Committees posted security camera footage of Israeli soldiers confiscating materials from their office on Thursday morning.

Addameer, a prisoners rights group, posted photos of the closure orders posted by the military on its doors.

Sahar Francis, the director of Addameer, said that her organization and the other targeted groups “will continue in our work in supporting the Palestinian people and defending Palestinian rights in the international arena, especially in front of the International Criminal Court and in the UN.”

The Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees noted that Thursday morning was “not the first time that the occupation forces stormed our office”.

“Clear attempt to repress”

 Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, said that the raids and closures of the Palestinian groups is “another clear attempt to repress those documenting and pursuing accountability for rights violations.”

Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer representing some of the designated groups, said that the attacks on the Palestinian organizations was motivated out of “desire to frustrate the International Criminal Court investigations.”

Three of the groups raided on Thursday – Al-Haq, Addameer and Defense for Children International-Palestine – have provided evidence to The Hague’s investigation of war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Fatou Bensouda, the previous ICC chief prosecutor, authorized an investigation in Palestine during March last year. Her successor, Karim Khan, has so far not commented publicly on Israel’s persecution of Palestinian groups cooperating with the court.

Benny Gantz, the Israeli defense minister who imposed the “terror” designations, is a likely person of interest in the ICC’s probe over his role in Israel’s targeting of civilians during its bombing campaigns in Gaza.

Al-Haq warned on Thursday that there is risk of Israel seizing the targeted groups’ finances and assets, as well as the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of their staff members.

The group called for “concrete measures, such as trade restrictions and arms embargoes,” to hold Israel to account for its “systematic inhumane acts of apartheid, including the persecution of Palestinian human rights defenders.”

The Palestinian Authority foreign ministry condemned the raids and said that lack of international accountability has enabled Israel’s “continued war against [the] international human rights movement.”

Following Thursday’s raids, the European Union tweeted that it would “continue to stand by international law” and support organizations upholding “international law, human rights and democratic values.”

But the EU pointedly failed to condemn Israel’s actions or call for them to be rescinded. The foreign affairs spokesperson for the EU did not respond to a request for comment.

The EU’s tweet attracted skepticism and scorn from observers who pointed towards the EU’s “willful complicity” in Israel’s rights abuses.

Likewise, the US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that Washington was “concerned” about the raids but did not condemn them.

“He said Israeli officials have pledged to provide further information, without detailing what has been received so far or what conclusions US officials have drawn from it,” the Associated Press reported.

During a press conference on Thursday, the targeted Palestinian organizations pledged to keep working, saying that “we don’t take our legitimacy from an Israeli military commander, but from our people and Palestinian law.”

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada