The Israeli defence ministry outlawed six prominent Palestinian human rights groups, Al-Haq, a human rights group founded in 1979, Addameer, Defence for Children International – Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, alleging that they are linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a secular political movement with an armed wing.
Shawan Jabarin, the director of Al-Haq, said the move was an attempt to stifle criticism. “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.”
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem called the government’s declaration “an act characteristic of totalitarian regimes, with the clear purpose of shutting down these organisations”. It added: “B’Tselem stands in solidarity with our Palestinian colleagues, is proud of our joint work over the years and is steadfast to continue so.”
Human Rights Watch and London-based Amnesty International released a joint statement condemning the move as an “attack by the Israeli government on the international human rights movement. For decades, Israeli authorities have systematically sought to muzzle human rights monitoring and punish those who criticize its repressive rule over Palestinians,” they said. “This decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations.”
The Palestinian Authority said, “This fallacious and libelous slander is a strategic assault on Palestinian civil society and the Palestinian people’s fundamental right to oppose Israel’s illegal occupation and expose its continuing crimes.”
The groups, well known for their human rights work, have received funding from EU member states, the United Nations and other donors.
The European Union delegation to the Palestinian territories said past allegations of the misuse of EU funds by partners “have not been substantiated” but that it takes the matter seriously and is looking into it.The local office of the U.N. high commissioner for human rights said that in making the declaration, Israel had listed “extremely vague or irrelevant reasons, including entirely peaceful and legitimate activities.” It called on Israel to “fully respect the rights to freedom of association and expression, without any interference or harassment against the organizations or their staff,” adding that it considers some of the Palestinian organizations to be “key partners.”
The U.S. State Department said it would seek more information from Israel on the designation and had not been given advance warning about it.