The US and International Community Must Force Israel to Reverse its Unprecedented Attacks on Our Organizations and Palestinian Civil Society

Israeli soldiers detain a Palestinian child in the occupied West Bank. Defence for Children International — Palestine, which monitors the Israeli military’s abuse of Palestine children, is one of the six groups Israel is trying to silence by labelling them terrorist organizations. (Photo: Wisam Hashlamoun/Anadolu Agency)

Israel’s decision, announced on Friday, to designate our Palestinian civil society organizations and two others as “terror organizations” represents a dangerous escalation of its longstanding efforts to silence criticism of its colonization of Palestinian land and apartheid system. It is part of a larger campaign of repression and intimidation intended to suffocate Palestinian civil society and to suppress resistance to its systematic violations of Palestinian rights and international law. Unless the international community acts forcefully to pressure Israel to reverse its decision, the seeds will be planted for Israel to target other Palestinian civil society groups in the same way.

We strongly reject Israel’s attempt to criminalize our human rights advocacy and social work and its baseless allegations against all six organizations. Our organizations are managed by human rights professionals and civil society actors who are dedicated to working for justice and liberty for the Palestinian people based on thorough documentation, and high quality research and programs. We are collectively committed to upholding international law, ensuring justice and accountability, and serving and protecting the rights of the Palestinian people including the most vulnerable to Israeli colonial polices and practices; Palestinian children, women, prisoners and agricultural communities.

It’s not surprising that the Israeli government has launched this attack on us at a time of growing international recognition of Israel’s abysmal human rights record, and in the immediate aftermath of the opening of an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into Israel’s crimes, due in part to strong documentation, research and advocacy by Palestinian civil society organizations.

Criminalizing our work under Israel’s domestic Anti-Terrorism Law (2016), which violates international human rights standards and is being unlawfully applied in the occupied Palestinian territories for the first time, subjects our staff to grave repercussions like closing our offices, freezing our bank accounts and international funding, and mass arrests and travel bans of human rights defenders under false pretenses, like those Israel carried out against the Palestinian Health Work Committees (HWC) this summer.

With fewer well-trained eyes and ears on the ground, Israel will feel further emboldened to inflict even more brutal violence — killing and arresting more of our people, seizing more land for illegal settlements, destroying more homes and olive trees, and further tightening the cruel fourteen-year illegal siege on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Indeed, history shows that when governments like Israel’s go after respected civil society organizations like ours, it’s often a warning sign that further repression will follow, unless there’s swift, concerted international opposition. It’s a tactic common to authoritarian and colonial regimes, from the military juntas of Latin America in the 1970s to apartheid South Africa.

So far, Israel’s move has been met by harsh international condemnation, including from our partners, the premier global human rights organizations Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who called it “an appalling and unjust decision” and “an attack by the Israeli government on the international human rights movement.”

The European Union (EU) also rejected Israel’s claims ​​saying, “Past allegations of the misuse of EU funds in relation to some of our Palestinian [Civil Society Organization] partners have not been substantiated. The EU will continue to stand by international law and support civil society organizations that have a role to play in promoting international law, human rights, and democratic values.”

Indeed, these are sadly just more in a long line of false accusations and punitive actions by Israel against human rights defenders, many of them fueled by right-wing, pro-settler extremist groups that spread disinformation in an attempt to smear and discredit us.

In 2019, Israel expelled Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine Director Omar Shakir for his human rights advocacy. Amnesty International’s Israel/Palestine campaigner Laith Abu Zeyad has been banned by Israel from traveling for unspecified “security reasons” since October, 2019. Israel banned Shawan Jabarin, Director of Al Haq, and the current Secretary General of the International Federation of Human Rights, from traveling abroad from 2006–2012, based on unspecified “secret evidence.” And just this July, Israel raided the offices of Defense for Children International — Palestine, and unlawfully arrested staff members, subjecting them to ill-treatment and medical negligence.

Israel’s systematic smearing of Palestinian and international human rights defenders aims to delegitimize us, put us on the defensive, and drain our resources so that we cannot do our work, thus allowing Israel to maintain its impunity.

The Israeli government is increasingly concerned about our scrutiny of its practices. In the last year, Human Rights Watch, and Israel’s leading human rights organization B’Tselem issued reports saying that Israel is practicing the crime of apartheid, adding their voices to those of our organizations.

The Israeli government felt able to take this outrageous step against us because of the refusal over decades by the international community, with the U.S. in the lead, to impose serious consequences for Israel’s crimes, like land theft, ethnic cleansing, bombing civilians, torturing Palestinains in military detention, and killing unarmed protesters, medics and journalists.

Still, we refuse to be silenced or deterred from our vital human rights work by Israel’s attacks. We will remain steadfast in advocating for a dignified future for the Palestinian people, and for the end of Israeli apartheid.

But we need international support to stop this repression in its tracks. Israel must be held accountable and face real consequences for its illegal actions.

It’s finally time to face the reality that Israel is an apartheid state imposing an illegal occupation that deprives millions of Palestinians of their most basic rights and their freedom.

Critical words are not enough. The US and international community must take immediate, concrete action to pressure Israel to reverse it’s decision to outlaw our organizations and to end its larger campaign of repression against the Palestinian people in their struggle towards freedom, and to finally end the impunity that Israeli leaders have always enjoyed for their systematic violations of international law.

Shawan Jabarin, General Director of Al Haq
Sahar Francis, General Director of Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association
Khaled Quzmar, General Director of Defense for Children International — Palestine
Fuad Abusaif, Director of the Union of Agricultural Workers Committee

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An independent nonprofit, the IMEU produces expert resources, including opinion, analysis, and digital content to raise awareness of Palestine and Palestinians.

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The Institute for Middle East Understanding

The Institute for Middle East Understanding

An independent nonprofit, the IMEU produces expert resources, including opinion, analysis, and digital content to raise awareness of Palestine and Palestinians.

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