On October 22, Israel issued a military order designating six prominent Palestinian human rights groups – Addameer, Al-Haq, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees – as “terrorist organisations”.
The Israeli Ministry of Defence said the decision was taken on the basis of “links” they established between these groups and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) – a left-wing movement with a political party, as well as an armed wing that has carried out deadly attacks against Israel.
The Palestinian Authority, many international rights groups and the United Nations swiftly condemned the move. In interviews, comment pieces and statements, officials, analysts and experts expressed their belief that Israel “has gone too far this time”. The most prominent line of argument against the designation was that these six groups are clearly human rights organisations and they cannot be placed in the same “terror” category as groups like the PFLP that consider violence a legitimate means to achieve political ends. “The misuse of counter-terrorism measures in this way by the government of Israel undermines the security of all,” UN human rights experts said in a statement.
For its part, Israel defended its decision by claiming that these groups are “controlled by senior leaders” of the PFLP and that they employ its members, including some who had “participated in terror activity”. The Israeli Ministry of Defence also accused the groups of serving as a “central source” of financing for the PFLP.
In response to these claims, Michael Sfard, a prominent Israeli lawyer who often represents Palestinians, said that Israel’s argument “amounts to absolutely nothing” and that its whole case against these organisations is built on “guilt by association”. “Even if it is true that people who work in certain organisations are PFLP operatives, it does not follow that the organisation itself is part of the PFLP,” he told the AP news agency.
Sfard’s point of view, shared by many others, helped raise some important questions: So what if people working in these organisations are also members of the PFLP? Does it mean anything that Israel considers the PFLP a “terrorist organisation”? What is, after all, “Palestinian terror”?