Thursday, December 2, 2021

Palestinian rights groups see a muzzle in Israel’s terror tag

Ramallah, West Bank (AP) – Activists on Saturday called on the international community to help reverse Israel’s unprecedented designation of six Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organizations, a label that effectively outlaws them .

He said the decision amounts to an effort to silence groups that have documented Israel’s harsh treatment of Palestinians over the years. Some groups have close ties with rights organizations in Israel and abroad.

Israel claims that the targeted groups were a front for a smaller PLO faction with a violent history, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Israel’s terror labels for six groups, some of which receive European funding, have stunned the United States and Europe. Israel later insisted that some Biden administration officials were informed ahead of time.

The move against rights groups comes at a time when efforts to negotiate the terms of a Palestinian state with Israel have failed disappointingly. For years, the US and Europe have engaged in politically less expensive conflict management, pushing instead for a solution, while Israeli settlements continue to expand on the occupied lands sought for a Palestinian state.

Amid the paralysis, Europe, in particular, has invested in strengthening Palestinian civil society, an effort now seemingly being challenged by Israel’s decision to outlaw well-known rights groups.

The terrorism label would allow Israel to raid the groups’ offices, seize property, arrest employees, and criminalize expressions of money and support.

Rights groups in Israel and abroad have expressed outrage over the “terror” label.

Palestinian activists said they were relying on international pressure to roll back the verdict.

“We expect the international community to put enough pressure on Israel to back down,” Ubai Aboudi, head of one of the target groups, the Bison Center for Research and Development, said on Saturday. Aboudi said he had previously been accused by Israel of being a PFLP member, but denied ever being related to the group.

Sahar Francis, director of prisoners’ rights group Addameer, said at a news conference that she was grateful for international statements of support, and “we expect this campaign and pressure to continue so that it is fruitful.” Addameer is also one of the target groups.

Shawan Jabreen, the head of the veterans rights group Al-Haq, said Israel’s post came as a surprise and the groups were not given a heads-up. Two of the six groups said they would not be forced to go underground despite the uncertainty of their new position,

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An Israeli defense official alleged in a statement on Saturday that the six groups “operated as an organized network” led by the PFLP. The statement claimed that the groups act as a lifeline for PFLP through fund raising, money laundering and recruitment of activists.

It also named several members of rights groups who were later arrested as alleged members of the PFLP military wing. The smaller PLO faction has a political party and a military wing that have carried out attacks killing Israelis.

The PFLP is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and Western countries.

Six groups have denied the allegations and condemned Israel’s designation of terrorism for crushing reporting on rights abuses in the occupied territories, primarily by Israel, but by the increasingly authoritarian Palestinian Autonomy Government.

The UN Human Rights Office in the Occupied Palestinian Territory said on Saturday that the reasons cited by Israel’s defense minister were “vague or irrelevant” and denounced his decision as the latest step in a “long stigmatization campaign” against the organisations.

The EU delegation to the Palestinian territories acknowledged financing activities by some rights groups. It said previous allegations of misappropriation of EU funds by the partners “have not been confirmed” but that it takes the matter seriously and is looking into it.

“EU funding to Palestinian civil society organizations is an important element of our support for the two-state solution,” it said on Friday.

The US, Israel’s closest ally, said it had not been warned about the decision in advance and would seek more 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 vital to responsible and accountable governance.”

The other four groups targeted by Israel include Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Federation of Palestinian Women’s Societies, and the Federation of Agricultural Action Committees. Most organizations target human rights violations by Israel as well as the Palestinian Authority, both of which regularly detain Palestinian activists.

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