Israel shuts offices of Palestinian rights organizations it labeled terror groups

IDF troops confiscate property, weld doors of offices in Ramallah shut, after defense minister ratifies 2021 decision to outlaw groups over alleged ties to PFLP

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

An Israeli soldier welds a door shut, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 18, 2022. Israeli troops operated against several Palestinian rights organizations it has declared as terror groups. (Israel Defense Forces)
An Israeli soldier welds a door shut, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 18, 2022. Israeli troops operated against several Palestinian rights organizations it has declared as terror groups. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel’s troops in the early hours of Thursday raided the Ramallah offices of several Palestinian advocacy groups it has designated as terror organizations, sealing entrance doors and leaving notices declaring them closed.

Israel has said 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.

On Wednesday night, Defense Minister Benny Gantz ratified the October 2021 decision to label some of the organizations as terror groups linked to the PFLP: the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, the Bisan Research and Advocacy Center, and Addameer, which represents Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli military courts.

Separately, the chief of the Israel Defense Forces’ Central Command denied appeals by Palestinian rights organization Al-Haq, and Defense for Children-International in Palestine, a group that advocates for Palestinian children, to be removed from the terror list.

Other groups, including the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, also remain listed as linked to the PFLP.

The IDF said Thursday morning that troops had shuttered the offices of seven organizations in the West Bank overnight, seizing “property belonging to the terror organizations.”

“During the counterterrorism activity, rocks and Molotov cocktails were hurled toward the soldiers, who responded with riot dispersal means,” the IDF added.

According to Al-Haq and DCI-P, troops confiscated “client files,” welded the doors to their offices in Ramallah shut, and left notices declaring the organization unlawful.

“They came, blew up the door, got inside, and messed with the files,” Shawan Jabarin, director of al-Haq, told The Associated Press, adding that they are still examining whether any documents had been confiscated.

In a statement, the UN Human Rights Office said the closures “appear totally arbitrary” and accused Israel of not providing evidence to support claims that the organizations conducted unlawful activities.

“Human rights defenders must be immediately protected from these unjustified attacks,” the office added.

The declaration last year sparked a swift backlash around the globe, with the European Union, the Palestinian Authority, progressive US Democrats, US Jewish groups, and international human rights organizations expressing criticism.

Most of the targeted organizations document alleged human rights violations by Israel as well as the Palestinian Authority, which routinely detains Palestinian activists. Many have received considerable funding in grants from EU member states and the United Nations, among other donors.

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

In July, nine EU member states said Israel hasn’t backed up its allegations and that they will continue working with the targeted groups.

“These accusations are not new and Israel failed to convince even its friends,” Jabarin said.

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

Jabarin said “neighbors and strangers” who were nearby during Thursday’s raid had opened the office in Ramallah as soon as the Israeli forces left, and that al-Haq’s staff were inside and resuming their work.

“We don’t take permission from any Israeli military or political official. We are proceeding, encouraged by our belief in the accountability and the international law,” he said.

The PA described the closure of the organizations as a “dangerous escalation” and said it was “an attempt to silence the voice of truth and justice.” Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Palestinian official, said the PA will appeal to the international community to reopen the institutions.

The Israeli Yesh Din rights group said Thursday’s raid should “worry anyone who values ​​human rights.”

“Yesh Din calls on the countries of the world to intervene in order to stop Israel’s political persecution against Palestinian human rights organizations, which is intended to justify the continuation of the crimes of occupation and apartheid in the West Bank,” it added.

The Defense Ministry claimed that the organizations in question “operate under cover for the PFLP,” and work “under the guise of performing humanitarian activities to further the goals of the PFLP terror organization.”

“The organizations operate to strengthen the organization and to recruit operatives. They also assist in raising funds for the terror organization via a variety of methods that include forgery and fraud.”

“The five organizations are controlled by the PFLP, employ PFLP operatives in management and field positions, and operate to conceal their affiliation to the terror organization, out of fear of the security agencies in Israel and in the countries in which they raise funds.”

NGO Monitor, which tracks anti-Israel nonprofits, said Gantz’s ratification was “a response to the European refusal to engage with the evidence.”

“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 Gerald Steinberg, the monitor’s founder.

Both Israeli military and civilian law ban supporting or joining a terror group, and violators can face years in prison. Israeli authorities can also seize assets belonging to terror organizations and forbid funding their activities; donors may also be subject to significant jail time.

Israeli authorities have charged before that the PFLP has pilfered millions of euros from civil society organizations affiliated with its members to fund terrorist activities. In May of last year, the Shin Bet arrested four suspects, including a Spanish citizen, who were believed to have channeled European funds to the PFLP.

The Associated Press and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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