US says concerned by Israel’s raid on Palestinian NGOs, not convinced by prior intel

State Department says Israel pledged to provide new information justifying office closures, says ‘high bar’ needed to act against civil society

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

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)
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)

The US on Thursday expressed concern over the Israeli military’s raid of seven Palestinian human rights organizations in the West Bank earlier in the day. It also said it has decided to not follow Jerusalem’s lead in blacklisting the groups after receiving Israeli intelligence on the organizations last year.

“We are concerned about the Israeli security forces’ closure of the six offices of the Palestinian NGOs in and around Ramallah today,” said US State Department spokesman Ned Price.

“We have reached out to the Israeli government, including at senior levels, including here from Washington as well as from our embassy in Jerusalem, for more information regarding the basis for these closures,” Price said, adding that Israel was set to convey intelligence to the US regarding the raids.

Israel’s Defense Ministry blacklisted six of the civil society groups in October 2021, putting their employees at risk of arrest and their funding at risk of seizure. Israel has claimed it has “ironclad” intelligence tying the groups to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which Israel and the US have labeled as a terror organization.

Israel has only been willing to share that intelligence privately, and several Democratic lawmakers, as well as European Union officials privy to the information, concluded that it was not sufficient to justify the terror label.

Price confirmed Thursday that the US did not view the intelligence as convincing enough to follow Israel’s lead in blacklisting the Palestinian groups.

“Through the course of our review of this information, we have not changed our position on or our approach to these particular organizations,” Price said.

He refrained from condemning Israel’s actions against the Palestinian organizations.

“Different parties can read information differently, can perceive threats differently,” Price said. “We are going to continue to review any information that’s provided to us.”

“We have conveyed the message that there must be a very high bar to take action against civil society organizations. Our Israeli partners have in turn conveyed back to us that they have met that high bar,” Price said.

Asked how the US measures that “high bar,” Price declined to elaborate, but acknowledged “the terrorist threat that Israel faces” and indicated Jerusalem’s right to cite such concerns.

The six blacklisted organizations — al-Haq, Addameer, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, Defense for Children International-Palestine, Bisan, and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees — are prominent, well-established groups.

Most of the organizations have documented alleged human rights violations by Israel as well as the Palestinian Authority. Many have received considerable funding in grants from EU member states and the United Nations, among other donors, but not the US.

Al-Haq was notified last month that its EU funding, which had been suspended, would be restored after an investigation into the organization’s finances found no evidence of irregularities.

On Wednesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz ratified the 2021 decision to blacklist 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 Al-Haq and Defense for Children-International in Palestine to be removed from the terror list.

The sixth organization, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, also remained listed as linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The IDF said on Thursday it raided and shuttered the offices of all six groups along with a seventh, the Health Work Committees.

Price expressed the US concern about the raid in a press briefing hours later.

“We will continue to seek additional information and to convey our concern directly and privately to our Israeli partners,” Price said, adding that the US would review whatever information Israel provides in a timely manner.

“We have in the course of recent events, but also in recent months and beyond, made clear to our Israeli government partners and to the Palestinian Authority the fact that independent civil society organizations in the West Bank and Israel must be able to continue their important work,” Price said, indicating the Biden administration’s concern with how Israel and the Palestinian Authority both treat human rights organizations.

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