West throws Palestinian rights groups to the wolves

Israel and its friends have criminalized Palestinians struggling against foreign domination.

Oren Ziv ActiveStills

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.


The criminalization of political factions broadly impacts Palestinian society.

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.

In true settler state solidarity with Israel, Canada made thinly veiled threats to withdraw funding in a letter to the court stating its opposition to an ICC investigation in the West Bank and Gaza last year.

Canada also paved the way for the siege on Gaza, now in its 15th year, by boycotting the elected Hamas government and cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority, citing the group’s refusal to recognize Israel and give up Palestinians’ right to armed resistance.

Ottawa restored funding to the PA a year and a half later after the Western-backed Fatah party led by Mahmoud Abbas seized control of the West Bank, leaving Gaza isolated and forsaken.

Israel’s international friends appear happy for the siege on Gaza to become as permanent as the occupation as a whole as they consolidate Tel Aviv’s impunity.

In Washington, the Biden administration has voiced no protest against the terror group designations. The only government-level pushback has been a draft resolution signed on by a handful of House representatives.

The draft resolution upholds the “courageous work being done by the six Palestinian civil society organizations defending the human rights of a vulnerable and at-risk Palestinian population living under Israeli military occupation.”

But many more members of Congress on both sides of the political aisle signed on to a letter drafted by the Israel lobby giant AIPAC supporting the Trump administration’s efforts to sabotage the International Criminal Court’s probes into war crimes in Palestine and Afghanistan.

These efforts included placing economic sanctions on Fatou Bensouda, the former chief prosecutor whose term ended in June, placing her in the company of international “terrorists” and drug traffickers.

Though it has lifted the sanctions, the Biden administration has quietly attempted to pressure the Palestinian Authority into dropping the case at the International Criminal Court.

Yet another green light to Israel to continue to build settlements in violation of international law and kill scores of Palestinians with US weapons without consequence.

Deference to the oppressor

Though Washington may be Israel’s principal abettor, it is hardly the only enabler.

The eagerness of the EU and UN bodies to defer to Israel is further indication that Palestinian human rights workers will be thrown to the wolves.

Israel informed the EU embassy in Tel Aviv in advance of its intentions to designate Palestinian rights groups as “terrorist organizations.” The EU failed to relay this information to member states, some of which have pushed back against the Israeli move.

EU spokesperson Peter Stano told The Electronic Intifada that “we will be engaging Israeli authorities for more information regarding the basis for these designations.”

It is a statement of total deference to what human rights groups based in Israel have called “an act of cowardice, characteristic of repressive authoritarian regimes.”

Perhaps even worse than the EU’s spineless statement of concern was that made by Lynn Hastings, the UN humanitarian coordinator in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

While acknowledging the “increasing pressures on civil society,” Hastings said she was “engaging with the Israeli authorities to learn more about the allegations” when they should be rejected out of hand.

Hastings also serves as “deputy special coordinator for the Middle East peace process” – an office under the UN secretary-general that has sought to promote normalization between Arab states and Israel while pushing for the surrender of resistance groups in Gaza.

Hastings’ office, along with Washington and Brussels, support Israel’s regime change mission in Gaza and expects Palestinians there to capitulate to Israel and surrender to its rule.

Some international organizations rallying to the six Palestinian groups’ defense are also in the habit of giving Israel the benefit of the doubt but not affording Palestinians the same.

Human Rights Watch unequivocally condemns Palestinian rocket fire as a war crime, while using qualifying language regarding Israeli airstrikes on civilian targets in Gaza, saying that they are “apparent” war crimes.

This is despite Israeli leaders making it clear that their objective was to use overwhelming and disproportionate force to terrorize civilians, as has characterized Israel’s bombing campaigns in Lebanon and Gaza since 2006.

There should not be any assumption that those strikes had a military objective, just as there should not be any assumption that there is a legitimate basis to the defense ministry’s directive against the Palestinian rights groups.

Israel’s anti-terrorism law of 2016 empowers the defense minister to declare a group a “terrorist organization” without allowing targeted parties the right to a hearing or any review of the decision.

As the authors of a legal analysis of the Israeli law say, “in 2021, it should be clear to everyone that criminalizing human rights groups on the basis of classified intelligence is absolutely unacceptable.”

+972 Magazine, an English-language publication based in Israel, reported that the order was based on “intelligence” gathered by the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic spy agency.

“According to sources with knowledge of the legal case, the agency’s evidence is reportedly based on the testimony of a sole employee who was terminated from one of the organizations for corruption.”

Israel’s foreign ministry has referred to the testimony of an “interogee” stating that the targeted groups are the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s “economic and organizational lifeline.”

Israel routinely practices torture against Palestinian detainees, as documented by Addameer, one of the targets of the defense ministry’s “terror organization” directive. That may be how it obtained the purported “intelligence” on which it is hanging the designations.

Where Israel’s powerful friends shrug and do nothing, supporters of Palestinian rights are pushing for meaningful action to end impunity for good.

Hundreds of organizations in the US are calling on the Biden administration to push back against the terror designations and support Palestinians seeking justice at the International Criminal Court.

Al-Haq founder Raja Shehadeh says this attack on Palestinian human rights advocacy “highlights how important it is for the ICC to succeed in its efforts to hold Israel to account – and how important it is to frustrate the US government’s efforts to obstruct the ICC’s work toward bringing to justice any Israeli official who has committed war crimes.”

Shehadeh adds: “The Israeli government’s perception that it is immune from any such prosecution has emboldened it to keep breaking international law over the years – as this latest order against Al-Haq demonstrates.”

Those wishing to challenge Israel’s regime of oppression must start with the institutions and states that enable its crimes.

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.