UN report claims Israel ‘silencing civil society’ by outlawing Palestinian groups

Israel rejects Commission of Inquiry’s accusation of ‘fundamental’ violations regarding designation of rights organizations as terror outfits for alleged links to PFLP

An Israeli army closure order hangs on the door of the sealed office of the al-Haq human rights organization that was raided by Israel in Ramallah, August 18, 2022. (AP/Nasser Nasser)
An Israeli army closure order hangs on the door of the sealed office of the al-Haq human rights organization that was raided by Israel in Ramallah, August 18, 2022. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

Investigators commissioned by the UN’s top human rights body accused Israel on Thursday of “delegitimizing and silencing civil society” by outlawing Palestinian human rights groups and labeling their members terrorists.

The findings came in the annual report by the Human Rights Council’s “Commission of Inquiry,” established in 2021 following an 11-day war between Israel and the Hamas terror group in Gaza. Israel has accused the rights council, and the commission, of being unfairly biased, and has called for the disbandment of the commission over antisemitic comments by members of its three-person leadership.

Former UN human rights chief Navi Pillay, who leads the commission, accused Israeli and Palestinian authorities of “limiting the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful association.”

“We were particularly alarmed by the situation of Palestinian human rights defenders, who are routinely subject to a range of punitive measures as part of the occupation regime,” she said.

The report also accused both Hamas and the rival Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-controlled West Bank of committing rights violations.

But it said most of the violations it had uncovered were committed by Israel as part of a campaign it says is aimed at “ensuring and enshrining its permanent occupation at the expense of the rights of the Palestinian people.”

In 2020 and 2021, Israel designated seven Palestinian rights organizations as terrorist groups, effectively outlawing them. It later raided and shut down some of their offices.

Israel says the groups are connected to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — 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 its Western allies consider the PFLP a terrorist organization.

The rights groups deny any connection to the PFLP, and a number of European nations have rejected the Israeli claims, citing a lack of evidence.

Palestinian PFLP supporters during a rally marking the 52nd anniversary of its founding, Nablus, December 14, 2019. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Thursday’s report by the commission said the Israeli crackdown on the groups was “unjustified and violated fundamental human rights, including the rights to freedom of association, expression, opinion, peaceful assembly, privacy, and the right to a fair trial.”

It also took aim at Israel’s deportation of a French Palestinian human rights lawyer and activist last year from East Jerusalem to France. Israel has accused the activist, Salah Hamouri, of PFLP membership.

He worked for the Palestinian human rights organization Addameer, which was deemed by Israel in October 2021 to be a terror organization, together with several other NGOs — a designation Addameer along with the UN and several Israeli human rights groups have all strongly rejected.

Hamouri had been stripped of his Israeli residency rights in October 2021.

Chris Sidoti, a member of the commission, said Thursday there was “no doubt” that Hamouri’s deportation “constitutes a war crime.”

‘No legitimacy’

Israel’s UN mission in Geneva strongly rejected the report’s findings and said “the Commission of Inquiry against Israel has no legitimacy. It never had.”

The mission accused the commission members of having “pre-existing biased prejudices” and compared the commission’s public hearings to gather information for the report to “kangaroo trials.”

“Israel has a robust and independent civil society which is composed of thousands of NGOs, human rights defenders, national and international media outlets, that can operate freely throughout the year,” it said.

The UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry against Israel is overwhelmingly critical of the Jewish state and its reports almost entirely ignore Palestinian terrorism and violence.

The commission is the first to have an “ongoing” mandate from the UN rights body. Critics say its annual scrutinizing of Israel testifies to an anti-Israel bias in the 47-member-state council and other UN bodies.

Last year, Israel, the United States and Britain accused one of the commissioners, Miloon Kothari, of making antisemitic remarks by questioning Israel’s right to be a UN member and alluding to a “Jewish lobby.” Kothari later apologized.

UN commissioners Chris Sidoti, left, Navi Pillay, center, and Miloon Kothari, right, discuss their probe into Israel and the Palestinians at the United Nations in New York, October 27, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Proponents say the commission is needed to keep tabs on persistent injustices faced by Palestinians under decades of Israeli rule.

In addition to the Commission of Inquiry, there is also an open-ended Human Rights Council special rapporteur investigating Israel. The current mandate-holder, Francesca Albanese, has a history of antisemitic remarks and is overwhelmingly critical of Israel. The US mission to the UN has said it was “appalled by her conduct” and some Congress members have called for her removal. Albanese has also not faced any UN repercussions for her antisemitism.

Israel, with two open-ended probes against it, is the only country under such investigatory scrutiny by the UN.

Palestinian forces target dissenters

In its latest report, the commission also criticized the rival Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza, accusing them of targeting human rights activists “with the aim of silencing dissenting opinions.”

It said authorities in both areas have forcibly closed civil society activities.

“In Gaza, organizations seen to be challenging the social, religious and political status quo have been particularly targeted,” it said.

In the West Bank, it said many activists have been arrested for protests and online activism and charged with defaming officials and participation in illegal gatherings.

The Commission found that Palestinian security forces “routinely intimidate” activists and journalists “through threatening phone calls, interrogations or cautionary interviews and arbitrary arrest and detention,” it said.

Illustrative: Hamas security officers stand guard on the main road of the Jebaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip, October 30, 2020. (Adel Hana/AP)

It said it had received information about “torture and ill-treatment to punish and intimidate critics” both in Gaza and the West Bank.

“The frequency and severity, and the absence of accountability indicate that such cases are widespread in nature,” it said.

The commission also accused Palestinian forces in the West Bank of arresting or allowing violence against members of the LGBTQ community and using sexual and gender-based violence to silence female human rights defenders.

There was no immediate reaction from either the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority in the West Bank or Hamas in Gaza.

Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Six-Day War. The Palestinians claim all three areas for a future independent state.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem in a step that is not internationally recognized and says the West Bank is disputed territory, and that its fate should be determined through negotiations. Israel withdrew from Hamas-ruled Gaza in 2005.

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