Palestine Update 506
Israel’s criminalization of Palestinians resisting foreign domination did not begin with the recent order declaring six prominent groups “terror organizations.” This dangerous development is only the logical outcome of decades of impunity and repression against any Palestinian assembly that challenges Israel’s regime of apartheid, occupation and colonization.
One of the groups targeted by Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz’s “terror” designation order is Al-Haq, which was founded in 1979 and is one of the oldest Arab human rights organizations. Raja Shehadeh, one of the organization’s founders, recounts in The New York Review of Books that Israel “has persistently tried to discredit Al-Haq and its work.” In its early years, this meant labeling Al-Haq a front for the Palestine Liberation Organization, which Israel outlawed before the signing of the Oslo accords in the 1990s.
In 1980, Israeli soldiers, suspicious of cars parked nearby, raided the group’s offices during a meeting attended by an Amnesty International representative. “When we lodged a complaint the army began an interminable investigation of the incident, which after many years was still not concluded,” Shehadeh stated in The Guardian last week. It is but one example of the repression endured by Palestinians as all forms of collective organizing around their rights are treated by Israel as a security threat. Now Israel is applying a draconian 2016 anti-terror law for the first time, accusing Al-Haq and five other groups of operating as covert arms of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a leftist political party and resistance organization. That group is banned by Israel as well as the US and the EU because it refuses to go along with the Oslo accords surrender – refuses to recognize Israel and renounce armed resistance. International law recognizes the legitimacy of armed struggle in anti-colonial and anti-occupation struggles against foreign domination.
Criminalizing resistance groups like the PFLP serves the oppressor
Israel has repeatedly jailed lawmaker and human rights defender Khalida Jarrar based on her membership with the PFLP without meaningful protest from Washington and Brussels. Governments have criminalized the Palestinian movement for national liberation by designating the PFLP and other factions that reject normalization with their oppressor as terror organizations.
Israel lobby and lawfare groups like NGO Monitor, UK Lawyers for Israel and Shurat HaDin have waged smear campaigns against Palestinian human rights groups, attempting to link them with “terror” to discredit, defund and disrupt their work. While repeatedly finding such claims to be without merit, European governments have given in to these defamation campaigns. The EU requires groups to sign documents that legitimize the criminalization of Palestinian political groupings – conditions that some organizations have rejected and thus lost funding. This micromanaging of who can and cannot be the recipients of programming and aid provided by Palestinian groups who receive funding by the EU isolates these groups from the rest of society, writes Lubnah Shomali of Badil, a Palestinian research group that has refused such interference in its work. Under these conditions, Shomali explains, “aid recipients have to screen their own staff, partners and potential beneficiaries of the project being funded.” She adds: “It is not our job to act as police.” Shomali told The Electronic Intifada podcast last year that these conditions were “enhancing the fragmentation” that Israel has long imposed on Palestinian society.
Meanwhile, Palestinian human rights groups and other organizations have to divert resources from their core work to fulfill onerous auditing requirements to receive European funding. These conditions, first imposed by US government agencies and private foundations, have increasingly restricted the work of Palestinian groups. Palestinian organizations must deal with funders’ increased demands as Israel arrests their workers, raids their offices and prevents staff from traveling abroad or between the West Bank and Gaza. Meanwhile, the US and EU lavish Israel with weapons and grants to develop repression technology “field-tested” on Palestinian bodies. The hypocrisy and double standards are mind-boggling. While banning Palestinian resistance groups, Washington flouts US law that prohibits the government from assisting units of foreign militaries when there is credible information that those units violated human rights with impunity.
Al-Haq leads the way in monitoring and documenting those human rights violations and advocating to burst Israel’s bubble of impunity at the international level. Al-Haq and two other groups targeted by Israel’s defense ministry order – Addameer and Defense for Children International Palestine – have filed evidence of war crimes to the International Criminal Court. Benny Gantz is likely being investigated by the court for his military chief and defense ministry roles in the 2014 and 2021 assaults on Gaza during which the Israeli air force bombed civilian towers and obliterated entire families in their homes.
As Al-Haq founder Raja Shehadeh observes, Gantz’s terror group order is likely to be followed by one from Israel’s military commander in the West Bank. That would mean that anyone working for any of the six targeted groups, or providing services or expressing support for them, “will be subject to arrest on terrorist charges.” The organizations’ “financial assets will be confiscated and Israeli banks will stop any funding from reaching it,” Shehadeh adds.
Barring significant international pressure on Israel, “in two months there won’t be a Palestinian civil society,” according to Ubai Al-Aboudi, director of Bisan Center for Research and Development, one of the targeted groups.
Israel’s abettors and enablers
While Israel moves to starve Palestinian groups of the funding necessary to carry out their international advocacy work, its powerful international friends have sought to undermine accountability at the Hague. Their toothless statements of concern over the terror group designations must be understood in the context of their willingness to help Israel evade justice. It took Canada a week to acknowledge Israel’s attack on the Palestinian groups while stating no position against it.
Human rights organizations Condemn Spyware Used Use of NSO Group’s Pegasus against to Hack Palestinian Rights Defenders
Surveillance of Palestinian human rights defenders violates their right to privacy, undermines their freedom of expression and association, and threatens their personal security and lives. It not only affects those directly targeted, but also has a chilling effect on advocates or journalists who may self-censor out of fear of potential surveillance. Information obtained through arbitrary surveillance can be used to prosecute, monitor, harass, or detain human rights defenders, dissidents, and others who challenge authorities or dare to stand up to those in power.
The targeted organizations have also been subject to previous harassment by the Israeli authorities, including intimidation, arbitrary detention of staff, travel bans, office raids, and confiscation of equipment. The Israeli government has also applied some of these tactics to Israeli and international human rights advocates. This targeting of human rights defenders with Pegasus provides further evidence of a pattern of human rights abuses facilitated by NSO Group through spyware sales to governments that use the technology to prosecute civil society and social movements in many countries around the world. Furthermore, these abuses underscore how NSO Group’s Human Rights Policy fails to prevent and mitigate human rights abuse in a meaningful way.
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Israel uses alarming steps to enforce persecution of Six Palestinian Organisations – International Community must Intervene
Al-Haq strongly condemns the military order issued by Israel’s commander-in-chief of the Central Command to transpose its unlawful designation of Al-Haq as a “terrorist organization” within the occupied West Bank. Similar military orders were issued against four fellow organizations. The military order constitutes a dangerous and alarming move to execute and implement its designation of Palestinian organizations, putting Al-Haq, its staff members, and their property, at imminent risk of raids, arrests, and reprisals. On 19 October, in an attack of unprecedented violence against Palestinian human rights civil society organizations, Israel’s Minister of Defense, issued a decision designating six leading Palestinian organizations as “terror organizations,” namely, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Al-Haq Law in the Service of Man, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.
The decision had the effect of effectively criminalizing the organizations, their staff members, and their work under Israeli domestic law. The six Palestinian organizations have remained lawful within the occupied West Bank, in the absence of a military order declaring them as “disallowed associations.” According to the article, the six organizations could continue to function lawfully within the occupied West Bank, excluding Jerusalem where they are legally registered, and cited Israeli sources confirming that “the main objective of labeling them as terrorist organizations was to hamper their fundraising.” However, the law took direct and immediate effect over staff and property of the designated organizations in illegally annexed and occupied East Jerusalem. On 3 November, the Israeli military commander signed a military order that outlaws the six Palestinian civil society organizations within the rest of the West Bank as well.