The Israeli government has designated 6 well-established Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organisations, in attempt to crush dissent over growing abuses by Israeli occupation forces. Yet, despite the move making it more difficult to document the crimes of Israeli forces, it doubles as a gift to the ever-weakening Palestinian Authority.
Last month, Israeli Minister of War, Benny Gantz, okayed the designation of six Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organizations: al-Haq, Addameer, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, Defense for Children International-Palestine and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees. Israel claims that the human rights groups all work to provide funding to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) Party, which Israel considers a terrorist group. The PFLP is a Marxist political Party and has an armed wing called the Abu Ali Mustapha brigades, which is active in fighting against Israel.
Al-Haq, established in 1979, is perhaps the most well known group and has documented the crimes of both Israeli and Palestinian forces inside the occupied territories. Addameer, which provides free legal aid to Palestinian political prisoners and lobby’s for their rights, is probably the second most notable group. Due to Israel’s designation, funding will now dry up to both of these critical and trusted human rights organisations. Practically, this will mean that there will be less documentation about what is happening inside the West Bank and East Jerusalem, coupled with less legal representation and advocacy for political prisoners, many of whom are held in administrative detention [held without charge].
Despite the claims made by Israel, that the human rights groups are outfits for the PFLP, they are yet to present any evidence for this and the charge has been strongly denied by all of the human rights groups. On top of this, the timing of the designations is key and may reveal more about the intent of the move by the Israeli regime.
Israel has been, for months, on overdrive propping up the Palestinian Authority (PA) which currently works as a subcontractor for Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. There are a number of reasons for this, the most important of which is due to Israel’s prized security coordination with PA forces. The security coordination allows for the Israeli military to avoid full-time deployment of its forces into the most densely populated Palestinian cities and has set up a situation in which most of the intelligence on Palestinians in the West Bank comes from the PA itself.
Interestingly, the organisations currently being labeled as terrorist groups have a history of calling out the crimes of the Israeli military, as well as PA human rights abuses against Palestinian civilians and prisoners. After PA forces assassinated a popular critic of it, Nizar Banat, in June of this year, mounting pressure has been building on the Palestinian authority. With Palestinian human rights groups at the forefront of documenting the abuses committed by PA forces, this information seems to resonate with the public in the West Bank on a more serious level than if it had come from international groups who are often viewed as biased. This being considered, it is rational to believe that these designations were made with this in mind.
Destroying Palestinian human rights organisations, first and foremost, means destroying the most trusted sources to local Palestinians. It also wouldn’t look good for the PA to take down any of these groups, especially as it would like to maintain the image of supporting them. This is of course speculation, but would make perfect sense if that was one of the intents behind the move by Israel. It also must be noted that the Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister, Riad Malki, condemned the Israeli designation as “fallacious and libelous slander”, defending the 6 human rights groups publicly.
Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, it now seems that Israel is heading down a slippery slope to labelling groups such as B’Tselem as terrorist groups or foreign agents and pursuing a course of action to break them. B’Tselem is perhaps the most influential local human rights group and has declared Israel as an Apartheid regime, from the river to the sea. Following the 2008-2009 onslaught against the Gaza Strip, by Israel, the head of a UN fact finding mission into the attack and self-described Zionist, Richard Goldstone, accused Israel of committing war crimes and as a result the pressure by the Israeli regime was immense. When the 2012 attack on Gaza occurred, a major influence on the story later told was a group called ‘Breaking The Silence’, which allowed for Israeli soldiers to tell their stories, the group is now seen as traitorous due to Israel’s campaigning against it.
Now, for the most trusted Israeli human rights organisation [B’Tselem] to have labelled the entire State an “Apartheid Regime”, built on “Jewish Supremacy”, it only seems like a matter of time before the hammer comes down on the group.
This attack on human rights groups is not exactly Israel’s first. The Israeli Supreme Court permitted the expulsion of the director for Israel and the Palestinian territories at ‘Human Rights Watch’ (HRW), Omar Shakir, in 2019. HRW would later come out, earlier this year, and write a lengthy, detailed report accusing Israel of the crime of Apartheid. Shakir was accused of supporting the ‘Boycott Divestment Sanctions’ (BDS) movement, against Israel, a charge he denied. In 2017, Israel even passed a law which would permit the deportation of any foreigner who has openly called for a boycott of Israel.
Israel has long conducted quick deportations of pro-Palestinian activists, observers, and journalists — even imprisoning them. I personally, as a journalist, was detained and interrogated by the Israeli forces for reporting on their activities in the West Bank and was notified that I was never allowed to return to Israel, and I am not alone. Anyone who attempts to get through an Israeli border will be subjected to searches and interrogation if deemed suspicious, this is almost guaranteed if you are black, brown or have a Muslim sounding name. If Israeli border agents find anything on you which indicates that you entered or will enter Palestinian territory, you can be instantly deported.
For human rights organisations, they are now under a special microscope; Israel understands that they are one of the primary culprits behind its negative image internationally. These groups are essential and have proven to not only influence global public opinion, but have also protected some Palestinians. Unfortunately, this designation of the 6 Palestinian human rights groups will pass. There has been an international outcry, but nothing will likely be done about it. But for the future, organizing must take place to protect organisations like B’Tselem, because once they are gone, so many more crimes will be allowed to go on unreported.