‘It won’t end with us’: Addameer director warns of repercussions of Israeli ‘terror’ designation

Sahar Francis, director of Palestinian prisoner rights group Addameer, speaks during a press conference in Ramallah (AP)

Yumna Patel

Mondoweiss  /  January 7, 2022

Addameer is one of six Palestinian NGOs designated by Israel as a terror organization. The prisoners’ rights group says the accusations against them are unfounded, and could have potentially devastating consequences for the Palestinian human rights movement.

In a small office near downtown Ramallah, a melting pot of staff members, of all ages, genders, and backgrounds, flow in and out of their workspaces. Some of the staff chat while they have lunch, while others sit at their computers, or comb over files at their desks. 

It’s a typical office scene that can be found most anywhere in the world — books line the shelves, while art posters and the faces of the clients they have helped cover the walls. 

Any stranger who might enter the office, belonging to Addameer, the premiere Palestinian prisoners rights group, would be surprised to find out that the staff members in front of them are at risk of being arrested at any moment by Israel, which considers the organization they work for the be a “terrorist institution.”

Addameer, along with five other Palestinian civil society organizations, was designated by Israel as a “terrorist institution” in October, with the government claiming the groups had ties to and were channeling money to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The PFLP, a Marxist-Leninist group, which, like several other Palestinian political factions, is considered by Israel to be a “terrorist organization.”

The move, aimed at criminalizing the work of the six organizations and cutting their international funding, sparked widespread condemnation from human rights groups across the globe. 

Despite the pushback against the decision, Israel has refused to provide concrete evidence of its claims. In November, Israel’s military commander in the West Bank issued five separate military orders outlawing the work of the organization in the occupied territory, effectively allowing for their imminent shut down, the seizure of their assets, and the detention of their staff. 

“It has been a very stressful time here,” Sahar Francis, the Director of Addameer told Mondoweiss from her office in Ramallah. “It is all very scary, and has definitely affected the spirit of the staff,” she said. 

“But this is what Israel wants,” she said. “They are doing all this to shut us down and silence us, and bring us to the point where we will give up and say ‘it’s not worth it’.”

Why now ?

Francis and her staff are part of a network of Palestinian human rights advocates working to defend the rights of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, which today, number 5,000. 

When it was established in 1991, Addameer was one of the few groups offering pro bono legal aid to Palestinian prisoners in both the Israeli military and civil courts. Once the Palestinian Authority  was established, the group extended those same services to political prisoners held by the PA. 

At its core, Addameer works to serve Palestinian prisoners, who have been imprisoned by a military system that has over a 99% conviction rate. The group conducts visitations and legal consultations for prisoners, monitors and documents violations by the Israeli Prison Service, specifically the torture and mistreatment of prisoners, and advocates for the rights of Palestinian prisoners on the international stage. 

The group also conducts training and awareness programs for the local community, students, and children — anyone who might be subject to arrest and imprisonment by Israel. 

For 30 years, the group has been advocating for prisoners’ rights under occupation, and has become a pillar of the local community, and of the international human rights community in the process. 

So, why, after 30 years of work, would Israel want to criminalize the group?

“The attacks on our organization did not just start with the designation,” Francis said, adding that October’s ruling was the last step in a long journey of targeted harassment by the state against Addameer and other Palestinian NGOs. 

“The campaign against us has been ongoing for many years: harassment, smear campaigns, defamation, the distribution of false information about us by different groups like NGO monitor, UK Lawyers for Israel, and other right wing Israeli groups,” Francis said. 

The key goal of previous smear campaigns and the recent criminalization of the group, Francis said, is to “affect our work by affecting our reputation.”

The main target of such campaigns, she said, are the international donors and partners who fund and support groups like Addameer. 

“By attacking our donors, they hope that the donors would be terrified and cut our funds, and through this, they could stop us from doing our daily work,” Francis said, adding that the latest designation of the group as a “terrorist organization” was the culmination of previous failed attempts to cut the groups’ international funding. 

“Since all their campaigns didn’t work before, they came up with the designation,” she said. “The policy behind all these attacks is actually to terrify the donors, and to terrify those who were investing in civil society in Palestine.”

“Israel’s message to the international community that supports the Palestinian people is: don’t you dare come and implement your projects here.”

Why Addameer, and ‘the 6’?

Joining Addameer on the list of banned organizations, are other prominent institutions like Al-Haq, Defense for Children International – Palestine, the Bisan Centre for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.

For Francis, the reason why Israel has chosen to target the six organizations is clear: by criminalizing Palestinian civil society, Israel can continue to change facts on the ground, without facing accountability for its violations of international law. 

“Organizations like the agricultural works committee, for example, deal with land construction and supporting Palestinian farmers, especially in areas where Israel is looking to confiscate and annex land, like the Jordanian Valley and Area C,” Francis said. 

“These are very sensitive areas that Israel wants to control, so of course this organization would be attacked.”

Addameer, Al-Haq, and DCIP, have placed an important focus on international advocacy, and provide reports and documentation of Israeli violations to the ICC and other international bodies, in order to hold Israel accountable for its crimes in the occupied territory. 

“We insist on accountability, and that we must use every tool offered by the international law on the UN level and other platforms in order to guarantee accountability,” Francis said. “So of course, we would be attacked for this work.”

“Israel does not want anyone to say no to their plans, or document their violations and submit it to the ICC so they can be held accountable for the war crimes they are committing on a daily basis,” Francis continued. 

“The fact that they are trying to silence us is connected to all of this.”

What happens now?

In the wake of the attack on the six organizations, the groups have launched a campaign to #StandWithThe6, calling on supporters to express solidarity with the six Palestinian human rights organizations and demand a reversal of the Israeli decision.

Despite a strong response from fellow human rights organizations and civil society groups, the organizations have been left disappointed by the reaction, or lack thereof, of major players like the United States and the EU. 

While the EU reinforced its support for Palestinian civil society, individual states have failed to decry the designation outright, and the US has remained relatively silent on the matter, refusing to take a stance. 

“I think this silence is very bad and dangerous, not just against Palestinian civil society but against the entire human rights movement in the world,” she said.

“The U.S. has a very important role in this issue. If the U.S. is not going to take a very clear position in rejecting this decision, this is a silent message to, in the least, the banking system that ‘you can do whatever you want, you can freeze the accounts, it’s not our business’,” Francis said. 

Francis warned that while the “terrorist” designation has started with the six organizations, it will not end with them. 

“It will start with us, but it’s not going to be just us in the end. This is going to effect the whole Palestinian human rights and civil society sector,” she said. “Is the US interested in dismantling entirely the whole Palestinian civil society system? If yes, then silence would be the answer. But if not, it’s very important they take a position.”

In spite of the ongoing pressure being faced by the organizations, and the imminent threat of their closure and potential arrest, Francis said that she and the staff at Addameer will continue to push on. 

“We don’t have any other choice but to keep going, to continue,” she said. “It is worth it.”

“Not just because of the prisoners, but because of the self determination of our people. Our struggle for justice and dignity is worth the high price that we might pay as individuals,” she continued. 

“At the end of the day we are not alone. The support from our friends around the world, and from grassroots organizations everywhere, is also giving us hope that one day justice will really come. It can’t be that the occupation will last forever. No, it will end.”

Yumna Patel is the Palestine News Director for Mondoweiss