UN experts press for action over “terror” designations

Israeli occupation forces stand guard in front of Havat Ma’on settlement in the West Bank’s South Hebron Hills in October 2021.

Keren Manor ActiveStills

A dozen UN human rights experts are calling on governments to resume and increase funding to prominent Palestinian organizations designated by Israel as “terrorist groups” in October.

The experts, who include Michael Lynk, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, say that “the information presented by Israel” fails to substantiate its accusations against the groups.

The targeted organizations – Addameer, Al-Haq, Defense for Children International-Palestine, Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees – include human rights groups engaged with the International Criminal Court’s Palestine investigation into war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

No government has thrown its support behind the Israeli designations. But states that have funded the targeted Palestinian groups have yet to explicitly reject the move or even give Israel a deadline to present credible evidence supporting its claims.

Ned Price, a US State Department spokesperson, said on Tuesday that the Biden administration was still reviewing the information provided by “our Israeli partners.” Price said that such a review can be a “lengthy” process because it involves multiple departments and agencies. He added that the US government doesn’t fund any of the targeted groups.

Belgium is so far the exception, having announced last month, following an internal investigation, that there was no basis to the Israeli allegations and that Brussels would not take any action against the targeted Palestinian organizations.

“Incalculable impact”

The UN experts called on those governments “to announce that they will continue to financially and politically support these organizations and the communities and groups they serve.”

The experts note that the European Union suspended funding to two of the organizations and other funders have delayed their contributions while they investigate the Israeli claims.

“This has undermined the work of these Palestinian organizations and has had an incalculable impact on the communities they support,” the experts said.

By suspending or delaying support, funders of the Palestinian organizations are presuming guilt despite the vague allegations, which Israel says is based on secret evidence.

The American Bar Association – which describes itself as “the world’s largest voluntary association of attorneys and legal professionals” – has raised concerns over the fairness of the Israeli actions against the groups.

In a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett last week, the president of that association questioned whether “an impartial and administrative review” of the terror designations is possible given that the targeted groups are not able to access the supposed evidence against them.

“Secret evidence” is an essential tool in Israel’s arsenal of repression tactics that it uses against Palestinians living under its regime of occupation, apartheid and settler-colonization.

Israel indefinitely detains hundreds of Palestinians without charge or trial at any given time under administrative detention orders issued by military courts on the basis of secret evidence.

Trial balloon

“Secret evidence” is also the grounds on which Israel has detained Mohammed El Halabi, a humanitarian worker from Gaza, for nearly six years.

Human Rights Watch called on Israel to immediately release El Halabi, the head of the Gaza office of World Vision, an international Christian charity, this week.

Arrested in 2016, El Halabi has been on a seemingly unending trial, with his case going to court around 170 times.

The manufactured case against El Halabi can be viewed as a trial balloon as Israel seeks to consolidate its control by criminalizing charity workers and human rights and social service organizations.

Israel’s goal is to further isolate Palestinians, wielding the specter of terrorism to scare off international funders and supporters.

The lack of international pressure over El Halabi, hailed as a humanitarian hero by the UN in 2014, has emboldened Israel to crack down on prominent and well-regarded Palestinian groups that stand in its way of effectively annexing the West Bank.

An external audit commissioned by the Australian government – which provided significant funding to World Vision’s budget in Gaza prior to El Halabi’s arrest, after which the charity’s activities in the territory were suspended – found no evidence to support Israel’s claims that the charity worker diverted humanitarian funds to armed groups.

Pressure to confess

Israel is prolonging El Halabi’s detention to pressure him to accept a deal that would see him sentenced to time served and his release on condition of pleading guilty to a lesser charge.

El Halabi, insisting on his innocence, refuses to profess guilt of crimes he says he did not commit.

The charity worker is currently awaiting a verdict on his trial, which concluded in July last year.

This week, European Union diplomats paid a visit to El Halabi’s family in Gaza, noting that he “has been in Israeli prison for almost six years without a verdict.”

The EU stated that international law requires a “fair and impartial judicial process within a reasonable time frame” and acknowledged that “this has clearly not been respected in Mohammed’s case.”

What the EU did not concede, however, is that the unconditional support for Israel that comes from Brussels contributes to Israel’s confidence that it can trample the rights of any Palestinian with total impunity.

“El Halabi’s outrageously long prosecution combines many of the hallmarks of Israel’s rigged justice system against Palestinians, including mistreatment, secret evidence and prolonged pre-trial detention to coerce pleas” according to Omar Shakir, the director of Human Rights Watch’s Israel-Palestine program.

“The case underscores why other countries should push back when Israel hurls wild allegations against staff of civil society organizations that serve Palestinians,” he added.


Maureen Clare Murphy

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Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.