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Head of targeted Palestinian rights group says IDF summoned him for questioning

Al-Haq’s Shawan Jabarin says he refused to report to a military prison days after soldiers raided the Ramallah offices of his and other NGOs, drawing harsh European response

A man looks out of the window of the office of al-Haq Human rights organization that is adjacent to the St. Andrew's Anglican Episcopal Church, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
A man looks out of the window of the office of al-Haq Human rights organization that is adjacent to the St. Andrew's Anglican Episcopal Church, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

AP — A Palestinian rights campaigner said that Israel tried to summon him for questioning on Sunday with a threatening phone call, after Israeli soldiers searched the offices of various Palestinian rights groups last week.

European and US diplomats have pushed back against the claim by Israeli officials that the targeted groups are linked to terrorism.

The apparent order for Shawan Jabarin to report to a military prison followed an Israeli raid last week on six Palestinian organizations in the West Bank. Nine European countries, using uncharacteristically blunt language, called the raid “not acceptable,” while the US expressed concern.

Last year, Israel outlawed the six rights groups, including Al-Haq, the group Jabarin directs, claiming they have ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The PFLP is a secular, left-wing movement with a political party, as well as an armed wing that has carried out deadly attacks against Israelis. Israel and the US have labeled the PFLP a terrorist organization.

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

The rights groups deny the allegations.

On Thursday, Israeli soldiers entered the West Bank city of Ramallah in an armored convoy and blew up the front doors of the Palestinian groups’ offices. Soldiers seized documents, computers, and broke furniture and appliances before sealing the entrances.

Jabarin said on Sunday that he received a five-minute “threatening call” from Israel’s Shin Bet security service ordering him to go to the Ofer military prison in the West Bank. He said an officer threatened arrest, interrogation, and “other things” if he did not comply.

“I will not change my mind, but if he wants to arrest me then he can surely do it as an occupying power,” Jabarin said. He said he invited the officer to the Al-Haq office and that he demanded the summons to be sent officially through lawyers, not over the phone.

Khaled Quzmar, the head of Defense of Children International-Palestine, another targeted group, spent two hours in the custody of the Shin Bet Sunday, the NGO said.

Jabarin called the claims of PFLP ties “utter nonsense and complete lies.”

The nine European countries — Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden — have also rejected the Israeli charges, citing a lack of evidence. They said the latest raids are “part of a worrying reduction of space for civil society” for Palestinians.

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)

“These actions are not acceptable,” they said in a joint statement, adding that they have seen no evidence of extremist links.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price last week said Washington was “concerned” about the raids and closures, but Israel had pledged to provide additional information. Western diplomats visited one of the offices hours later in a show of support for the outlawed groups.

The groups raided include Al-Haq, a veteran, internationally respected Palestinian rights group; Addameer, which advocates for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel; Defense for Children International-Palestine; the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees; the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and the Bisan Center for Research and Development.

On Sunday, some 45 Israeli and Jewish advocacy groups issued a statement in solidarity with the targeted Palestinian groups.

“Defense of human rights is not terrorism,” the statement said. “We repudiate these baseless declarations and call on the international community to pressure Israel to revoke its decision.”

Israeli human rights groups, including B’Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, as well as the liberal pro-Israel group J Street, were among the signatories.

Rights defenders have described the raid as part of a decades-long crackdown in the West Bank on political activism.

“We know that there is a price to defend rights and citizens, and we are moving forward,” Jabarin said.

NGO Monitor, which tracks anti-Israel nonprofits, has backed the Israeli 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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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