US says Israel handed it intel justifying shuttering of Palestinian NGOs

State Department says info under review by several US agencies; DC was unconvinced by previous batch of intelligence provided following blacklisting meant to prove ties to PFLP

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

IDF soldiers carry out raids in the West Bank on August 18, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF soldiers carry out raids in the West Bank on August 18, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel recently provided the Biden administration with intelligence aimed at justifying controversial IDF raids on seven Palestinian human rights organizations in the West Bank last month, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday.

Price did not detail the intelligence that purportedly led to Israel to shutter the civil society groups on August 18, and did not say what the US reaction to the information had been, after Washington had sought explanations for the action against the organizations previously labeled by Jerusalem as terror supporters.

“Our Israeli partners have in recent days provided us with additional information,” Price said Tuesday when asked for an update on the matter during a press briefing. “They provided this information not only to the [State] Department but to a range of our interagency partners. We are continuing to review this and that process is ongoing,”

He said the Israeli intelligence had been handed over last week.

Hours after the raid, Price had said the US was “concerned” by the action and had reached out to Jerusalem demanding an explanation. Israeli officials in turn assured their American counterparts that it would be providing more information justifying the raids.

Israel’s Defense Ministry blacklisted six of the recently raided civil society groups in October 2021, saying they were being used to fund the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which Israel and the US have labeled as a terror organization.

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

Israel claimed it has “ironclad” intelligence tying the groups to the PFLP, but has only been willing to share that intelligence privately.

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 said last month that the US had not viewed that intelligence as convincing enough to follow Israel’s lead in blacklisting the Palestinian groups.

US State Department Spokesman Ned Price speaks to reporters during a news briefing at the State Department in Washington, on Monday, March 1, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Pool via AP)

“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 at the time.

“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 then.

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 blacklisted organizations are all prominent, well-established groups.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh speaks at the Palestinian Al-Haq Foundation in the West Bank city of Ramallah after Israel raided and closed an entrance to their offices, on August 18, 2022 (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

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, one of the shuttered groups, 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.

Hours before last month’s raids, 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 it raided and shuttered the offices of all six groups along with a seventh, the Health Work Committees.

The Defense Ministry claims 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 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,” the ministry said in August.

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.

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