On Saturday, activists called on the international community to help change Israel’s unprecedented declaration of six Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organizations – a label that effectively outlaws them.
They said the decision was tantamount to trying to silence groups that had documented Israel’s ill-treatment of Palestinians over the years. Some of the groups have close ties with human rights organizations in Israel and abroad.
Israel claims the task forces were cover for a small PLO faction with a violent history, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Israel’s terrorist label for six groups, including those receiving European funding, appears to have caught the US and Europe by surprise. Later, Israel insisted that some Biden administration officials be notified in advance.
Action against human rights groups comes at a time when attempts to negotiate the terms of a Palestinian state with Israel are hopelessly bogged down. For years, the United States and Europe have been involved in less politically costly conflict management rather than pushing for a solution, while Israeli settlements in the occupied lands continued to expand in search of a Palestinian state.
Amid the paralysis, Europe, in particular, has invested in strengthening Palestinian civil society, a move that now appears to be challenged by Israel’s decision to outlaw prominent human rights groups.
The sign of terrorism will allow Israel to raid group offices, seize assets, arrest employees, and criminalize funding and expressions of support.
Human rights groups in Israel and abroad have expressed outrage at the “terror” label.
Palestinian activists said they were counting on international pressure to get the decision reversed.
“We hope that the international community will put enough pressure on Israel to retreat,” said Ubay Abudi, head of the Bisan Research and Development Center, one of the target groups, on Saturday. Abudi said that Israel had previously accused him of belonging to the PFLP, but denied belonging to that group.
Sugar Francis, director of the Addameer Prisoner Rights Group, said at a press conference that she is grateful for the international statements of support and that “we expect this campaign and pressure to continue to be fruitful.” Addameer is also one of the target groups.
Shavan Jabarin, who heads the veteran human rights group Al-Haq, said Israel’s appointment came as a surprise and that no one had warned the groups. Two of the six groups said they would not be forced to go underground, despite the uncertainty of their new status.
An Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman said in a statement on Saturday that the six groups are “acting as an organized network” under the leadership of the PFLP. The statement argued that the groups serve as a lifeline for PFLP through fundraising, money laundering and recruiting activists.
He also named several members of human rights groups who were later arrested as alleged members of the PFLP military wing. A small faction of the PLO has a political party and a military wing that have carried out attacks that have killed Israelis.
The PFLP is considered a terrorist organization in Israel and Western countries.
Six groups rejected the accusations and condemned Israel’s definition of terrorism as a blatant attempt to suppress reporting of rights abuses in the occupied territories, mainly by Israel, but also by the increasingly authoritarian Palestinian Authority government.
The UN Human Rights Office in the Occupied Palestinian Territory said Saturday that the reasons given by the Israeli Defense Minister were “vague or irrelevant” and condemned his decision as the latest step in a “long-term campaign of stigmatization” against the organizations.
The European Union Delegation to the Palestinian Territories confirmed the funding of the activities of some human rights groups. It says that past allegations of misuse of EU funds by partners “have not been confirmed”, but he is serious about the issue and is studying it.
“EU funding for Palestinian civil society organizations is an important element in our support for the two-state solution,” the statement said Friday.
The United States, Israel’s closest ally, said it received no prior warning of the decision and would seek additional information. US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Friday that “we believe that respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and a strong civil society are critical to responsible and responsive governance.”
Four other groups targeted by Israel are Palestine Children’s International, the Palestinian Women’s Committees Union and the Agricultural Workers Committees Union. Most organizations oppose human rights abuses by Israel, as well as by the Palestinian Authority, which routinely detains Palestinian activists.