EU top diplomat ‘deeply concerned’ by Israeli raids on Palestinian NGOs

Borrell says ‘no substantial information’ has been provided to justify move, which ‘undermines civil society and its valuable work’

IDF soldiers carry out raids in the West Bank on August 18, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF soldiers carry out raids in the West Bank on August 18, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Monday that the union is “deeply concerned” by the Israeli raids on six Palestinian NGOs last week.

“These actions are not acceptable,” he said in a statement, calling the move “part of a worrying reduction of space for civil society” in Palestinian territories.

Borrell said the EU “stands firm with non-governmental organizations to uphold the right to freedom of expression and association.”

He added that “no substantial information” has been provided by Israel to back up its allegations that the groups serve as a front for terrorist activity.

“Should convincing evidence be made available to the contrary, we would act accordingly,” he said.

“In the meantime, it is crucial to ensure that anti-terrorism legislation does not lead to undermining civil society and its valuable work and contributions to building fairer and more peaceful societies,” Borrell said.

European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell announces the resumption of the Association Council with Israel, July 18, 2022. (screenshot)

Earlier Monday, the US Central Intelligence Agency said it was unable to substantiate Israeli assertions over the groups’ alleged links to terrorism.

Citing sources with knowledge of the CIA probe, The Guardian said a report found no evidence to back Israel’s claim. It noted that Washington has not publicly criticized the Israeli designation made in October last year.

Acting on last year’s designation, Israeli troops raided the Ramallah offices of several of the Palestinian advocacy groups last week, sealing entrance doors and leaving notices declaring them closed.

Israel has said that the groups were effectively operated as an arm of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror organization, a claim the groups denied. They accused Israel of trying to silence criticism of alleged human rights abuses.

The groups included in Israel’s designation are the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, the Bisan Research and Advocacy Center, Addameer, which represents Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli military courts, Al-Haq, Defense for Children-International in Palestine, and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.

Security camera footage of Israeli troops raiding the offices of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees in Ramallah on August 16, 2022. (Screen capture/Twitter)

The move drew condemnation within Israel as well. On Monday, several dozen Israeli rights groups denounced the government for shuttering the offices, saying the allegations were baseless.

In July, the European Union said it would renew funding to Al Haq, after finding no evidence of irregularities. Al-Haq is one of the oldest Palestinian rights groups operating in the West Bank and Gaza. The organization was founded by lawyer Raja Shehadeh in 1979.

The group has been involved in filing reports with the International Criminal Court, which opened an investigation last year into possible war crimes in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza since 2014.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report. 

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