Palestinian flags (source: Wikimedia Commons)
Seven Palestinian human rights organization were raided by Israeli soldiers on August 17. The soldiers welded the doors shut and declared the offices closed. Last October, Israel accused six of the raided human rights organizations of having links to terrorist organizations, claims for which Israel has not provided any evidence yet.
The Israeli soldiers invaded the offices of the human rights organizations, located in the city of Ramallah in the Central West Bank, early in the morning. They blew up doors, seized documents, printers, and computers, and left a note on the door stating in Hebrew that the offices were no longer allowed to operate ‘for security reasons.’
The organizations affected by the raids are Al-Haq, Addameer, Bisan, Defense for Children International-Palestine, Health Work Committees, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees. Health Work Committees is the only organization not designated a ‘terrorist’ group by Israel last October.
The organizations vary in focus but are all involved in drawing attention to human rights violations by Israel, but also by the Palestinian Authority. In addition, the organizations aim to improve the rights of Palestinians. Some of the rights groups have worked to campaign the prosecution of Israeli leaders for war crimes at the International Criminal Court.
The raided organizations are among the most well-known Palestinian rights organizations and received substantial funding from the United Nations and European member states. Several of the organizations have worked in partnership with prominent right groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Accusations of terrorism
The six organizations designated as ‘terrorist’ groups in October were accused of being affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which is considered a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States. The six human rights organizations have all rejected these allegations and the United Nations have criticized the designation of the organizations as ‘terrorist’. In July, ten European countries – Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden – declared the allegations unfounded. The United States have not condemned the designations, though urging Israel to clarify its reasoning.
The raids followed a day after an appeal from the organizations designated ‘terrorist’ against these allegations, which was rejected by the head of the Israeli military’s Central Command in the West Bank. That same day, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Ganz ratified the designations against three of the organizations. The three remaining groups have ongoing appeals in Israeli courts.
‘Worrying reduction of space’
In response to the raids, al-Haq employees pried the door open again, later that Thursday, and vowed to continue their work. Since, Shawan Jabarin, head of al-Haq, has said he has received several phone calls from someone identifying himself as an officer of the Israeli Security Agency, threatening him with imprisonment if he carries on his efforts.
Several European diplomats visited the offices on the day of the raids as a show of support. The day after the raids, nine European countries released a joint statement in which they called Israel’s actions ‘not acceptable’ and ‘part of a worrying reduction of space for civil society in the occupied Palestinian territories.’
Since 1967, Israel has banned more than 400 international and local organizations. Rights campaigners have been targeted in the past, but the rights groups have argued that the designations in October were a watershed, representing an escalation of Israel’s assaults on Palestinian civil society.
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