Palestinian Rights Groups Say Israel’s ‘Terror’ Tag Won’t Stop Them

The director of Al-Haq, one of the six organizations and the most prominent Palestinian human rights group in the territories, said the groups were considering their next legal move and that they will not stop their work

The six Palestinian civil society organizations in the West Bank that Defense Minister Benny Gantz designated as terrorist groups Friday said in statements Saturday that they will not be deterred by what they called efforts to silence them.

Al-Haq, one of the six, is the most prominent Palestinian human rights group in the territories, and has special consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. The Shin Bet security service has several times in the past prevented its director, Shawan Jabarin, from leaving the West Bank to go abroad.

Founded in 1979, Al-Haq compiles reports on human rights violations in the territories by both Israel and by the Palestinian Authority. In the past year alone, Al-Haq has issued reports on Palestinian workers in the settlements and the Palestinian economy’s dependence on them, on torture in PA jails, on freedom of expression in the PA and on Israel’s de facto annexation of the West Bank.

Al-Haq is also one of the forces behind bringing Israel before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Jabarin said Al-Haq was given no advance notice of the order and challenged Israel to present proof of its claims. Addressing a joint news conference held by the organizations in Ramallah Saturday, Jabarin said the groups were considering their next legal move and that they will not stop their work. “Gantz says we are a terror organization, when he himself is a war criminal,” Jabarin said.

Another organization on Israel’s list of terror groups is Addameer, founded in 1991, which offers legal aid to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, publishing data on them and lobbying against Israel’s military justice system, administrative detention, solitary confinement and the withholding of proper medical attention from prisoners. Addameer has defended former Palestinian MP Khalida Jarrar and Samer Arbid, charged with Rina Shnerb’s murder and considered the head of a terror cell, exposing the use of violence in his interrogation.

Addameer says it seeks to “build a free and democratic Palestinian society based on justice, equality, rule of law and respect for human rights within the larger framework of the right to self-determination.”

The Israeli army raided the organization’s offices several times, most recently in 2019, seizing computers, video equipment and documents with information about prisoners whose cases Addameer was handling. Just last week, Addameer announced that Israel had revoked Jerusalem residency status of one of its attorneys, Salah Hammouri. Addameer said the stated reason was Hammouri’s involvement in “terror activity or association with a terrorist entity,” based on confidential information.

Saher Francis, Addameer’s director, told journalists Saturday that Gantz’s order was the culmination of steps taken over the years to hurt the organizations. “Especially in light of the decision of the criminal court in The Hague to launch an investigation and the change in the paradigm in that the world has begun to talk about colonialism and apartheid – this worries the occupation and we believe that this is another attempt to silence us,’ she said.

Defense for Children International-Palestine was founded in 1991 as a branch of the international organization Defense for Children, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. DCI-Palestine provides legal aid to children in military courts in Israel and conducts research on children imprisoned by Israel, as well as the impact of the occupation on children’s rights, including the right to education and shelter. The organization documents instances in which Palestinian minors are killed by Israel, including a video showing the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Nadim Nawara during a Nakba Day protest in Bitunya in 2016.

In July, the Israeli army raided DCI-Palestine’s main offices in El Bireh near Ramallah. According to the organization’s report, soldiers broke down the door and confiscated six desktop computers, two laptops and files of minors imprisoned by Israel who are represented by the organization.

The Union of Agricultural Work Committees, founded in 1986, established agricultural committees throughout the West Bank and Gaza. The goal of the organization, according to its website, is to contribute to the agricultural sector by promoting “farmers’ steadfastness and sustainable livelihoods.” According to the organization’s annual report for 2019, it helped restore farmland, paved agricultural roads and build rainwater cisterns. The organization has invested major resources in the West Bank’s Area C (under full Israeli military and civilian control).

Two of the organization’s members are members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Samer Arbid and Abed el-Razeq Faraj, who was accused of being an accomplice in Shnerb’s murder, and of holding a position in an unrecognized organization. In July the Israeli army raided the organization’s offices in El Bireh and left an order of closure for six months.

The Bisan Center is a think tank established in 1989. According to its mission statement it works to advance democratic and progressive values. Bisan espouses a left-wing worldview and criticizes the Israeli occupation’s role in poverty in the West Bank and the PA’s neoliberal policies. In March, Bisan published a periodical called The Progressive with articles about disengaging economically from Israel. On Saturday Bisan issued a statement saying: “This declaration of the apartheid state confirms the criminal nature of the Israeli occupation. The decision comes after focused efforts by the Israeli Foreign Ministry to blacken the organizations and cut ties between them and their partners abroad.” In late July the Israeli army raided the Bisan Center’s offices.

In September 2019, Israel arrested Bisan’s former director, Eteraf al-Rimawi, when he was the director of the Edward Said Music Conservatory. He was convicted in a plea bargain in 2020 of holding a position and membership in a banned organization and activities in the Popular Front (mainly in its student arm, according to the sentence). He was sentenced to 42 months’ imprisonment.

The Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, another group on Gantz’s list, was founded in 1980. It’s mission according to its website is to promote an advanced Palestinian society free from discrimination. The organization trains women to participate in politics, assists the establishment of cooperatives and preserves traditional Palestinian handicrafts. The organization also offers legal and psychological aid to women.

The Union’s head, Khitam Saafin, was arrested by Israel in 2020 and placed in administrative detention for six months. In May, while she was in administrative detention, she was charged with holding a position in an illegal organization. The organization issued a statement Saturday that it considered Gantz’s statement libelous and that it was intended to thwart the right of Palestinian women to “defend their national, social, cultural and legal rights.”