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B’Tselem: 'Act characteristic of totalitarian regimes'

Gantz declares six Palestinian rights groups ‘terror organizations’

Israel accuses them of being fronts for the PFLP; Al-Haq, Addameer and other prominent nonprofits deny charges, say Israel trying to silence criticism

Palestinian employees at the offices of Addameer in the West Bank city of Ramallah, after IDF forces raided 3 Palestinian NGOs, on December 11, 2012. (Issam Rimawi/FLASH90)
Palestinian employees at the offices of Addameer in the West Bank city of Ramallah, after IDF forces raided 3 Palestinian NGOs, on December 11, 2012. (Issam Rimawi/FLASH90)

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz declared six Palestinian human rights groups to be “terror organizations” on Friday, saying that they had effectively operated as an arm for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group.

Representatives of the groups and international organizations denied the charges and accused Israel of trying to silence criticism of alleged human rights abuses.

“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,” Gantz’s office said in a statement.

Israel, the United States and the European Union consider the PFLP, one of several member parties of the Palestine Liberation Organization, to be a terror group.

The six organizations included the Palestinian rights organization Al-Haq, Addameer, which represents Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli military courts, and Defense for Children-International, a group that advocates for Palestinian children.

The Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, the Bisan Research and Advocacy Center and the Union Of Agricultural Work Committees were also declared to be terrorist organizations.

According to the Defense Ministry, all six organizations employed senior PFLP members, “including activists involved in terror activity.”

Head of the Blue and White party, Defense Benny Gantz leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on October 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Taken together, the rights groups are some of the best-known organizations in Palestinian civil society. Many have received considerable funding in grants from European Union member states and the United Nations, among other donors.

“Those funds served the Popular Front for payments to security prisoners’ families and martyrs, wages for activists, enlistment of activists, promotion of terror activity and strengthening, promotion of the Popular Front activity in Jerusalem, and distribution of the organization’s messages and ideology,” said the Defense Ministry.

Al-Haq director Shawan Jabarin speaks at a conference on November 12, 2012. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Under a 2016 statute, the declaration enables Israeli authorities to close the nonprofits’ offices, seize their assets and ban supporting their activities.

Al-Haq director Shawan Jabarin, whom Israeli authorities have accused of being a PFLP member, said the move was an attempt to crack down on criticisms of alleged Israeli human rights violations.

“They may be able to close us down. They can seize our funding. They can arrest us. But they cannot stop our firm and unshakeable belief that this occupation must be held accountable for its crimes,” Jabarin told The Times of Israel.

Jabarin denied that his organization was a PFLP front: “I challenge any of them — the defense minister, the Shin Bet, anyone — to prove as much.”

Jabarin also criticized the timing of the announcement, which buried the controversial news on Friday afternoon. “When Gantz issues such an order on Friday afternoon, it means he doesn’t want the world to see his actions.”

Right-wing Israeli nonprofit watchdogs have long accused the groups of having PFLP ties. After Jabarin was placed on a travel ban by the Shin Bet in the 2000s, he appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court, which upheld the security service’s opinion of his PFLP membership.

“The Israeli announcement confirms what our research has shown years — this time six Palestinian NGOs were designated as terrorist organizations as part of the PFLP network. All are funded by European [governments] and deeply involved in political warfare against Israel,” tweeted NGO Monitor, which tracks anti-Israel nonprofits.

Palestinians participate in a rally marking the 52nd anniversary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), in Gaza City, December 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

International human rights groups, however, immediately slammed the decision. In a joint statement, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International condemned the move as “appalling and unjust.”

“This decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations. The decades-long failure of the international community to challenge grave Israeli human rights abuses and impose meaningful consequences for them has emboldened Israeli authorities to act in this brazen manner,” the two organizations said.

The left-wing Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem also condemned the move.

“Israel’s ‘change’ government’s designation, earlier today, of Palestinian human rights organizations as ‘terror organizations’ is not merely declarative. It is an act characteristic of totalitarian regimes, with the clear purpose of shutting down these organizations,” B’Tselem said in a statement, accusing Israel’s new government of trying to perpetuate a “violent apartheid regime.”

“B’Tselem stands in solidarity with our Palestinian colleagues, is proud of our joint work over the years – and is steadfast to continue so,” it said.

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