Palestinian human rights groups designated by Israel as “terrorist organisations” have called for international support to reverse the decision, which has the potential to compromise their ability to do humanitarian work.
A military order signed by Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz on Friday effectively outlawed six organisations, placing them at risk of imminent reprisals. They were accused of being linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), whose armed wing has carried out deadly attacks against Israelis.
Al-Haq, an organisation documenting rights violations since 1979, denied the accusations and called for “international solidarity”.
“It is no coincidence that Israel’s recent escalation of punitive measures against Al-Haq and fellow civil society organisations has come in the immediate aftermath of the opening of an International Criminal Court investigation into Israel’s crimes in the Situation in Palestine,” the group said in a statement.
Former ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda determined in March that enough preliminary evidence existed to justify an investigation into possible war crimes in the Palestinian territories. Israel has said it would not cooperate with the inquiry.
“The baseless allegations represent an alarming and unjust escalation of attacks against the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom, justice and the right to self-determination,” Al-Haq said.
Addameer, an organisation focusing on prisoners’ rights that has also been blacklisted, was among the promoters of the petition calling on the top UN court to launch the inquiry.
In a tweet, it called the military order an attempt to “criminalise” the work of civil society organisations “that challenge Israel’s prolonged military occupation”.
The organisation has called on the international community to take action by pressuring Israel to withdraw the designation and “cease the employment of illegal practices and policies of intimidation and harassment” against civil society organisations.
It also argued the designation represents an “egregious and unlawful” application of Israeli domestic law to the occupied Palestinian territories that contravenes the Palestinian peoples’ internationally recognised right to self-determination.
The designations represent an unprecedented & ominous attempt by the Israeli occupying authorities to silence and criminalize Palestinian CSOs that challenge Israel’s prolonged military occupation, entrenched settler-colonization & apartheid of Palestine. https://t.co/1qLzqo18lQ pic.twitter.com/ZZaKswnxha
— Addameer –الضمير (@Addameer) October 22, 2021
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have warned the designation gives Israeli security forces the authority to close the groups’ offices, seize their assets and arrest and jail their staff members. Funding or even publicly expressing support for their activities is also prohibited.
Addameer called on “donors, supporters, and human rights actors around the world to condemn the arbitrary designations and intimidation tactics and to publicly reiterate their support of the Palestinian civil society organisations”.
The other four groups targeted by Israel include Defence for Children International-Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.
‘Escalate repressive tactics’
Khaled Quzmar, general director of Defence for Children International-Palestine, said local human rights groups have been operating in a hostile environment where “disinformation campaigns” are becoming increasingly common.
“After years of delegitimisation and disinformation campaigns against us have failed to silence our work, Israeli authorities now chose to escalate repressive tactics by labelling civil society organisations as terrorists,” Quzmar said in a statement.
“We demand that the international community use all available means to hold Israeli authorities accountable … and act to end complicity and support to the Israeli apartheid regime,” he said.
Israel’s defence ministry has not commented on its decision or released any evidence to support its accusations.
The UN Human Rights Office in the occupied Palestinian territory said on Saturday the reasons cited by Israel’s defence minister were “vague or irrelevant”, and denounced his decision as the latest move in a “long-stigmatising campaign” against the organisations.
Israel’s terrorist label for the six groups appears to have caught the United States and Europe off-guard.
It could force them to pick a side at a time when efforts to negotiate the terms of a Palestinian state alongside Israel are hopelessly bogged down.
The US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said his office had not been given advance warning of the designation.
“We will be engaging our Israeli partners for more information regarding the basis for the designation,” Price said on Friday on a telephone briefing with reporters in Washington.
“We believe respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and a strong civil society are critically important to responsible and responsive governance,” he said.
Some Democratic members of the US Congress positioned themselves against Israel’s decision on Saturday, with Representative Betty McCollum noting its actions were “anti-democratic and contrary to the values expected of a US ally”.
Representative Ilhan Omar called Israel’s move “a textbook way to evade accountability for human rights violations and an affront to everyone who cares about peace”.
Americans for Peace Now, a US-based Jewish organisation calling for a resolution to the decades-long conflict, has called the move “deeply troubling”.