On October 22, the Israeli defence ministry issued a military order designating six Palestinian NGOs as “terrorist organisations”. The six targeted organisations are: Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Al-Haq, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC).
The ministry, citing 2016 anti-Palestinian terror legislation, has accused these organisations of being affiliates of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist-Leninist political party. More specifically they are accused of forming “a network of organisations active undercover on the international front” on behalf of the PFLP. The Israeli regime has yet to provide any proof to back its claims, but to Palestinians, it is clear that this is its latest bid to criminalise Palestinian civil society.
These particular organisations are renowned internationally for their critical human rights and social work. Addameer, for example, provides crucial legal and social support to Palestinian political prisoners and their families. Another organisation, Al-Haq, has spent decades documenting human rights abuses by the Israeli regime, collecting invaluable data and winning many international awards. The Union of Agricultural Work Committees supports Palestinian farmers in the face of ongoing oppression and land theft by the Israeli regime.
This attack on Palestinian organisations is not happening out of the blue. It is the latest escalation of Israel’s systematic campaign to stifle Palestinian civil society that has been ongoing for over seven decades.
After the establishment of the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, the Palestinian civil society took over the leading role in exposing and challenging the crimes of the Israeli regime. Thus, Palestinian civic organisations emerged at the forefront of the Palestinian struggle, which is what put them in Israel’s crosshairs.
More recently, in the last decade, there have been coordinated efforts led by various non-governmental groups working in tandem with the Israeli ministry of strategic affairs to target and defame Palestinian NGOs which work on Palestinian human rights.
The terror designation effectively criminalises the work of the six NGOs and allows the Israeli regime to close down offices, seize assets, arrest staff and even prohibit funding or public expressions of support for their activities. It could also make third parties and foreign partners apprehensive about engaging with these organisations and their work.
While this designation is an escalation, it is not the first time the Israeli regime has falsely applied the terrorism label to Palestinian organisations or individuals. The label is frequently bandied about by Israeli officials and Israel’s supporters to discredit and defame those who document Palestinian rights violations and those who resist such violations. The tactic is simple and can be quite effective.
For example, last year the European Union began implementing a funding clause requiring Palestinian beneficiaries of its financial support to vet all individuals working for them to ensure they are not involved with any Palestinian political party on its “terrorist list”. Considering that a considerable number of Palestinian political parties are on the list, the move amounts to political persecution.