In a controversial move, the Israel Ministry of Defense labeled six Palestinian rights groups as “terrorist” organizations – a decision that drew criticism from abroad including from the United States where officials said they were uninformed of this move in advance.
Israel said the decision, announced on Friday, was made in accordance with an anti-terrorism law passed by the government in 2016. The decision essentially hamstrings these groups by allowing Israel to freeze their funds, raid their offices and criminalize public expressions of support for these organizations, even though they are based in the Palestinian Territories, not in Israel.
The Israeli Defense Ministry alleges that senior members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) worked for all six organizations, “including activists involved in terror activity.”
“Those organizations were active under the cover of civil society organizations, but in practice belong and constitute an arm of the [PFLP] leadership, the main activity of which is the liberation of Palestine and destruction of Israel,” said Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s office in a statement which came out just as the country was shutting down for Shabbat.
The PFLP, a Marxist political group – also considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. – has carried out deadly terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.
The United Nations Human Rights Office in Ramallah charged that the reasons given by Israel for blacklisting these groups were “extremely vague or irrelevant.”
Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard said on Twitter that this decision “is a declaration of war on the entire HR [human rights] community.”
“It is an act the Netanyahu governments did not dare to carry out, and it was executed without presenting the public with any proof for the allegations made,” Sfard wrote, referring to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who was a political hawk. “It is difficult to escape the impression that this is a tyrannical move meant to annihilate the Palestinian civil society for its commitment to the struggle against Israeli occupation and apartheid.”
An Israeli defense official insisted that Washington had been told in advance and had received intelligence information on the matter as well. He also said these operatives “act as an organized network under the directive of the Popular Front’s leadership.”
"Many terrorist operatives, including those convicted of terrorism, have been employed by the organization. The organizations forged documents in order to raise money and to continue raising them with activities that never took place,” the official said. “The organizations represent a life-line for the Popular Front for raising money and recruiting operatives and even for laundering money for the PFLP.”
However, the U.S., the United Nations and the European Union – and even American Jewish groups and human rights organizations – decried the decision.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said he had received no advance warning about the decision.
“We believe respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and a strong civil society are critically important to responsible and responsive governance,” Price said while not outright criticizing the decision.
The six organizations are al-Haq, Addameer, the 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.
They are now relying on international pressure to force Israel to back down.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh rejected the move and called on the international community to condemn the decision, calling it unfair to humanitarian organizations attempting to work in the Palestinian territories.
Al-Haq said in a statement that Israel's decision aims to “delegitimize, oppress, silence and drain” the work and resources of these organizations.
“Further, the unlawful application of Israel’s domestic law to the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) serves to entrench the maintenance of its settler-colonial and apartheid regime of institutionalised racial discrimination and domination over the Palestinian people as a whole.”
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS