Lawyers demand evidence for Israeli terrorism claims against Palestinian NGOs

A member of the Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq is seen at their office in Ramallah (Reuters)

Lubna Masarwa & Edna Mohamed

Middle East Eye /  December 27, 2021

No proof of alleged links to the PFLP has been provided, despite international demand and condemnation.

Lawyers representing six leading Palestinian human rights and civil society groups outlawed by Israel have demanded Israeli authorities share any evidence they have used to justify the ban.

Adalah, a legal NGO representing the organizations, sent a letter asking Israeli security authorities to reveal their purported evidence, arguing that “there is no justice, fairness or due process for the organizations, without access to these materials in their entirety in order to defend themselves”.

On 19 October, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz announced that six NGOS – Addameer, Al-Haq, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P), the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC) – were now deemed “terrorist organizations” under the domestic counter-terrorism law. 

Gantz said the groups are “part of a network of organizations operating undercover in the international arena” on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist-Leninist resistance group. Yet no evidence of these alleged activities has been provided.

Michael Sfard, a lawyer involved in filing the letter, told Middle East Eye that the petition has made it “impossible” for Israel to address the claim without revealing the reason for the classification. 

“This is not a new practice, but to criminalize these six organizations is undoubtedly a watershed moment. Using these tools against the very backbone of Palestinian civil society and its most vulnerable, most respected, and best-known organizations is certainly a milestone in the history of the naked and blatant violence employed by Israel against Palestinian society.”

Adi Mansour, a lawyer at Adalah, told MEE: “Persecution of human rights organizations by such draconian and sweeping measures without presenting minimal evidence is a clear characteristic of a repressive authoritarian regime that operates by illegitimate means. 

“The recent designations are yet another testimony to the nature of the Israeli Counter-Terrorism Law and its purpose to arbitrarily silence any criticism of the apartheid regime controlling Palestinians and to the state’s determination to destroy the Palestinian civil society and delegitimize its struggle for justice.”

International response 

When the news broke that Israel was classifying these six organizations as “terrorist,” local and international human rights defenders quickly condemned the decision. 

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called the declaration a “brazen attack on human rights”. The UN high commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, also condemned the decision and referred to it 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”.

Meanwhile, 24 Israeli human rights organizations issued a joint statement as a “draconian measure that criminalizes critical human rights work”.

Shawan Jabarin, the general director of Al-Haq, one of the outlawed groups, told MEE that from the first day the classification has been a political decision based “solely on the nature of the work carried out by institutions, which focus on accountability and prosecution for war crimes that took place and are taking place in the occupied land”.

All six organizations have been documenting and monitoring alleged human rights violations at the hands of the Israeli authorities for decades. Many have worked closely with the United Nations and European Union.

Their work covers the rights of Palestinian prisoners and Israeli crimes against humanity, and has provided support to women and children in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

Israeli media reported last month that the terror designation was rushed when Israel learned that several of the groups’ staff members had discovered they had been targeted by the controversial Pegasus spyware.

Jabarin added: “Since 2008, they [Israeli authorities] have worked on a massive and unjust campaign to constrain our resources and silence us, using mafia-like methods by threatening to kill, hacking our computers, using Pegasus spyware and communication with our funder to convince them we support terrorism.”

Lubna Masarwa is a journalist and Middle East Eye’s Palestine and Israel bureau chief, based in Jerusalem

Edna Mohamed is a freelance journalist focusing on international politics and development