Head of Palestinian organization shuttered by Israel says he’s willing to face jail

‘This is a moment of truth’: Shawan Jabarin, who runs Al-Haq, accuses Jewish state of trying to ‘discredit’ rights groups and vows to continue activities

Shawan Jabarin, director of the al-Haq rights group, at the organization's offices in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Oct. 23, 2021 (AP/Majdi Mohammed, File)
Shawan Jabarin, director of the al-Haq rights group, at the organization's offices in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Oct. 23, 2021 (AP/Majdi Mohammed, File)

Veteran Palestinian rights campaigner Shawan Jabarin peers down the street from his office in the West Bank as if awaiting the imminent arrival of Israeli forces, after Israel’s August raid of seven Palestinian groups it says are tied to a terrorist organization.

“I dislike going to jail, but if this is the price to defend human rights and to keep speaking out in the face of the oppressive regime, I’m ready for that,” said 62-year-old Jabarin, doyen of the small world of Palestinian non-governmental organizations.

On August 18, Israeli forces shuttered the offices of Al-Haq, a legal organization that defends Palestinian rights and is headed by Jabarin, and six other NGOs in Ramallah.

The move came 10 months after the Defense Ministry designated Al-Haq and other NGOs as terrorist organizations, over their alleged links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a leftist terror group.

NGO Monitor, which tracks anti-Israel nonprofits, backed the government’s 2021 decision to outlaw the six groups, saying that the decision was a natural response to Europe’s unwillingness to acknowledge what it calls evidence linking the groups to terror activities.

“Even without any classified intelligence, open source information published by NGO Monitor clearly shows the links between the PFLP and the European-funded NGOs,” said founder Gerald Steinberg.

Protesters hold a banner that reads “NGO’s operate under the law, the occupation has no right marking them with terrorism,” during the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Nov. 10, 2021. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

The allegations have been rejected by the organizations, which argue that Israel is trying to silence defenders of Palestinian rights.

‘Moment of truth’

Since IDF forces closed the offices, Jabarin said he received a series of phone calls from an Israeli intelligence officer identifying himself only as Fadi calling on him to stop working with a “terrorist organization.”

The Shin Bet intelligence service did not respond to AFP inquiries about the phone calls.

“This is not a job,” Jabarin said of his role. “This is beliefs, it is international law and human rights – we have to stand by our commitment.

“This is a moment of truth, and we have to decide, but maybe we will pay a personal price,” he added.

Jabarin started out as a field researcher for the organization in the 1990s, when he was repeatedly put into administrative detention — a measure allowing for incarceration of people without charge under Israeli law.

Those stints in jail followed a nine-month prison term after he was convicted in 1985 of recruiting for the PFLP.

Palestinians celebrate during a rally marking the 46th anniversary of the founding of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian (PFLP), in Gaza City on, 7 December 2013. (Emad Nassar/Flash90)

Another Palestinian NGO worker, lawyer Salah Hammouri from the prisoner support group Addameer, has been imprisoned since March under the controversial measure.

Appointed director of Al-Haq in 2006, Jabarin has spearheaded a campaign to label Israel’s treatment of Palestinians an “apartheid” system.

This characterization, which Israel vehemently denies, has been adopted by global rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. However, many major governments, the UK and US included, reject any suggestion Israel maintained apartheid policies.

Jabarin said his organization “crossed a red line” by using the term apartheid, which he believes prompted the terrorism designation.

“They failed to shut us down, they failed to dry up our resources,” he said. “They came with the idea of using their heavy hands as a political state, and declare us a terrorist organization.

“They did that as a step to discredit us, and to disseminate fear over our partners and our funders.”

‘Pay the full price’

Nine European nations have committed to continuing their funding for Al-Haq and the other rights groups outlawed in the Jewish state.

“[Israel] didn’t listen to us so far, so why should we think that our condemnation will make any difference this time?” one European diplomat told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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

If Jabarin is arrested, the international community is “fully aware that it would not be enough to issue a statement,” said Sahar Francis, director of Addameer, which Israel has also designated a terrorist group.

“This is a time for actions,” added Francis, a longtime associate of Jabarin, who she said is willing to “pay the full price” for his convictions.

Jabarin, who along with the other NGO leaders has received the support of 45 Israeli organizations, said he has no alternative but to keep running Al-Haq.

“It’s not my choice [to go to prison], but if [it] is imposed on me, for sure, I will not collapse,” he said.

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