Last week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz declared six Palestinian rights organizations to be terror groups, sparking a strong international backlash.
Israeli authorities have sought to crack down on many of the groups in the past and alleged that they have ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a terrorist group committed to a violent struggle against Israel. Palestinian activists and politicians have in turn accused Israel of seeking to silence criticism of its policies.
The PFLP first became notorious for its repeated airplane hijackings in the 1970s. The terror group also conducted armed attacks against Israelis during the Second Intifada, and was involved in the 2014 murder of five Israeli worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue and a police officer who responded to the terror attack.
Some of the six organizations’ senior figures have been alleged to have ties to the PFLP in the past. But Israel now says the groups themselves are mere fronts to channel funding to the terror group; Israeli authorities have not publicly provided evidence to back up the claims.
The six groups in question include some of the most well-known and most internationally respected institutions in Palestinian civil society. All receive funding from European countries, the European Union, and other international donors.
Even the United States, normally a sympathetic ally, balked at Israel’s move. US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that Washington would seek clarifications from Israel on the evidence backing up the accusations.
Israel has nonetheless doubled down on the claims, although officials have said the key evidence linking the PFLP to the groups is classified for security reasons. The United States, the European Union, Israel, and other Western countries deem the PFLP a terror group.
In an anonymous briefing to reporters on Sunday night, Israeli authorities repeated that the secret evidence was “ironclad.”
But the consequences continue to reverberate. On Thursday night, progressive US lawmakers proposed a bill that would formally censure Israel for the move.
Founded in 1979, Al-Haq is one of the oldest Palestinian rights groups operating in the West Bank. The organization tracks alleged human rights abuses against Palestinians, and Director Shawan Jabarin has won several awards for the group’s advocacy.
Over the past few years, Al-Haq has issued reports and position papers on matters as diverse as torture in Palestinian Authority prisons, PA laws constraining civil society activity, Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes and infrastructure, and shootings of Palestinians by Israeli forces.
More controversially, Al-Haq has worked to submit dossiers to the International Criminal Court as part of the ongoing investigation into alleged war crimes committed in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza since 2014. The Israeli government has strongly condemned the investigation, while the Palestinians have welcomed it and urged it on.
Al-Haq director Shawan Jabarin is not without controversy himself. Israeli courts have convicted Jabarin in the past for being a member of the PFLP, and the Shin Bet security service has repeatedly placed him under a travel ban.
Jabarin continues to deny the allegations, including during a phone call with The Times of Israel on Friday.
“They may be able to close us down. They can seize our funding. They can arrest us. But they cannot stop our firm and unshakeable belief that this occupation must be held accountable for its crimes,” Jabarin said.
The organization has been critical not only of Israel but of the Palestinian Authority as well. Jabarin and others have been vocal in calling for a transparent investigation into the killing of Nizar Banat, an anti-PA activist who died in the custody of Ramallah’s security forces in June. He was allegedly beaten to death by PA forces after a raid on his Hebron hideout in late June.
“This was a political decision, not a security decision. I challenge Israel, from the Defense Minister to the Shin Bet chief to any official, to prove anything that they’re saying about al-Haq,” Jabareen added.
Addameer, established in 1991, represents Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli military courts. The group’s name means “conscience” in Arabic.
Addameer also works to ensure its clients’ access to medical care, family visits, and to otherwise improve their conditions while they are incarcerated.
The group is officially non-partisan and independent, although many of those the group defends have been accused of being tied to the PFLP. The organization’s former director, Khalida Jarrar, is a prominent PFLP official and a lawmaker in the defunct Palestinian parliament.
The organization’s employees have also sometimes faced charges in Israeli courts. Sahar Francis, Addameer’s director, was herself accused of colluding with a prisoner in 2002 and faced a six-year sentence; she was ultimately acquitted.
A senior member of the organization, Ayman Nasser, has been detained by Israel since September 2018.
“This decision is dangerous not only for us. We all live under the Israeli regime. The laws they use against Palestinians – they will use them against everyone,” Francis said during a meeting with Israeli human rights groups on Wednesday.
Francis declined to comment further, telling The Times of Israel that she does not speak with Israeli media.
The Union of Agricultural Work Committees
A Palestinian agricultural non-profit founded in 1986, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees conducts projects on behalf of tens of thousands of Palestinian farmers.
The organization helps farmers with land development, laying agricultural infrastructure, providing water supplies, and other related issues. According to director Fuad Abu Seif, some 25,000 Palestinian families benefit from the group’s work.
Abu Seif, an agricultural engineer from a family of farmers, has worked at the organization for 37 years. “I was surprised to hear the decision, as it is a reckless, poorly thought-out decision,” Abu Seif said in a phone call.
Many of the organization’s initiatives are in West Bank areas classified as “Area C.” The Oslo Accords, a series of bilateral agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, divided the West Bank into different zones: in Area C, Israel has full civilian and security control.
“We work to improve people’s use of their resources in Area C — where the vast majority of our agriculture lies — their land, their water, and so on,” said Abu Seif.
But in a highly politicized West Bank, in which both Israelis and Palestinians see the largely vacant Area C as an important battleground in laying facts on the ground, any work there is far from politically neutral.
The UAWC has been critical of the Palestinian Authority, as well, although Abu Seif attested that a recent meeting between the banned organization and PA President Mahmoud Abbas had gone well.
The UAWC has been repeatedly accused by Israeli watchdogs, such as NGO Monitor, of having ties to the PFLP. A study conducted by the United States Aid and International Development from 1993 also identified it as “an agricultural arm” of the PFLP.
Two UAWC employees, Abd al-Raziq Farraj and Samir Arbeed, were indicted for their involvement in a 2019 terror attack that killed Israeli teenager Rina Shnerb.
Shnerb, 17, was hiking in the West Bank when she was killed by a roadside bomb. Israel blamed the PFLP for the attack and began a crackdown on the terror group in the West Bank.
Israeli security forces arrested Farraj and Arbeed and they were later charged for their alleged involvement in the attack. Prosecutors described them as terrorists in the PFLP’s armed wing.
The Netherlands suspended funding for the UAWC after the news broke, in order to conduct an internal investigation into the group’s connections with the PFLP.
Abu Seif claimed that the two employees’ alleged actions are not representative of the hundreds who work in the organization.
“We’re talking about two people amidst hundreds of employees and thousands of families. What kind of ridiculous stupidity would drag us down with such an operation?” said Abu Seif.
“We have no factional, religious, or sectarian affiliation. We simply don’t believe in those kinds of ties. We’re part of civil society,” Abu Seif insisted.
Defense for Children International — Palestine
Defense for Children International — Palestine advocates for the rights of Palestinian children. Founded in 1979, it is the local branch of the Geneva-based international Defense for Children non-profit.
When there are violent incidents in the West Bank or Gaza that result in the deaths of Palestinian children, DCI-P often investigates and issues reports. The group also lobbies on behalf of Palestinian minors detained in Israeli prisons.
While most of its activity involves criticizing Israeli military rule, DCI-P has also issued reports blaming Palestinian armed groups for killing Palestinian children.
On May 11, as Hamas fired hundreds of rockets at Israeli cities and Israel shelled the Gaza Strip, eight Palestinians were killed in Beit Hanoun, including two children. While Hamas initially blamed Israeli airstrikes, DCI-P pointed the finger at a rocket misfired by Palestinian armed groups.
Well before Gantz’s announcement last Saturday, NGO Monitor had published reports charging that the organization had PFLP ties. According to the watchdog, some staff were members of the PFLP, while others spoke at PFLP events.
Jabarin, the Al-Haq director, also sat on DCI-P’s board for several years. NGO Monitor has also raised questions over the organization given Jabarin’s Israeli military court conviction for terror group membership.
Israeli soldiers raided the organization’s Ramallah office on July 29, confiscating documents and equipment. An Israeli military spokesperson deemed the raid “part of the battle against terror financing, on the basis of established and up-to-date intelligence.”
Like the other organizations newly classified as terror groups, DCI-P has denied the accusations leveled against it by the Defense Ministry.
“We have experienced and borne the brunt of increasing disinformation campaigns by both Israeli government actors and private actors that target our institutional donors, our partners, our board, and our staff,” DCI-P said in a statement.
“We reject the Israeli government’s recent designation of DCI-P as a ‘terrorist organization,’ as it is another unjust action by Israeli authorities to criminalize and eliminate our lawful human rights and child protection work,” the non-profit added.
Bisan Research and Advocacy Center
Bisan is a small, leftist Palestinian think tank and non-profit that conducts research and cultural initiatives across the West Bank and Gaza. It too has been dogged by accusations that it is linked to the PFLP — including some convictions in Israeli military courts.
Bisan director, Palestinian American Ubai al-Aboudi, was arrested by Israel in November 2019. In June 2020, Al-Aboudi was sentenced to a year in prison for PFLP membership after agreeing to a plea bargain.
“Bisan works with youth organizations, feminist institutions, and [community-based organizations] in marginalized and rural areas from all over Palestine to support their struggle in advancing their socio-economic rights,” the organization says in its mission statement.
The organization has also been critical of the Palestinian Authority, especially after the recent death of Banat, the prominent anti-PA activist.
Al-Aboudi was arrested again during protests that broke out following Banat’s death. This time, however, it was by the PA, not Israel. The PA accused him of participating in an illegal gathering.
Mr Ubai Aboudi, director of the Bisan Center for Research & Development, was arrested Wednesday morning from his home by 12 Israeli soldiers. He is currently being held in administrative detention- incarceration without trial. #freedomforubai #stopad https://t.co/ktQQEHrYLk
— Dr. Yara Hawari د. يارا هواري (@yarahawari) November 24, 2019
Itiraf al-Rimawi, the organization’s former director, was convicted in 2019 for involvement in the PFLP’s student wing. Al-Rimawi had left the organization by the time of his arrest.
“The defendant raised money, transferred funds, led committees, formed committees, and drafted activists,” an Israeli military judgment wrote in al-Rimawi’s conviction.
Bisan has denied that it is a front for the PFLP.
“How can an entire organization be responsible for the actions that one person allegedly committed outside of work? If a person works for a bank in the United States and breaks the law, do you then shut down the bank?” Al-Aboudi asked Local Call earlier this week.
The Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees
The Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC) was founded in 1980. The organization provides training for women who want to participate in politics, as well as legal and psychological support.
“The Union aims to improve the status of Palestinian women and empower them to ensure true equality between men and women and social justice for all segments of society,” the organization’s website says.
According to NGO Monitor, the group has received funding from Norway, Spain, and the European Commission, among others.
UPWC’s vice president, Suheir Khadr, is a publicly avowed member of the PFLP’s Central Committee, a senior decision-making body in the terror group.
UPWC head Khitam Safin was arrested by Israel in 2020. She was initially held without charge for six months before being charged with PFLP membership in May.
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