The NGOs Israel Designated as Terror Groups Remain Legal in the West Bank

The government’s controversial decision on six Palestinian organizations doesn’t apply in the West Bank, and a military decree that would change that hasn’t been issued. A security source told Haaretz that the main objective of labeling them as terrorist organizations was to hamper their fundraising.

The six Palestinian civil society organizations that Defense Minister Benny Gantz declared to be terrorist organizations can still legally operate in the West Bank, where they are registered and are active. For an organization to be declared a “disallowed association” in the West Bank, the commander of the IDF’s Central Command must issue an order, but the office said that no such order was issued.

This means the six nongovernmental groups in question remain legal in the West Bank and are outlawed only in Israel, which implies that Israel cannot try their employees at military tribunals just for working there, among other things. Sources at the State Prosecutor’s Office have already conceded that they do not intend to file indictments against the organizations or their workers.

The Counter-Terrorism Bureau, which designated the NGOs as terror organizations on October 22, was created in 2018 with the goal of coordinating activities against the financial infrastructure of terror groups. It acts under the power of authorities vested in the Counter-Terrorism Law of 2016 and is headed by Paul Landes. The Defense Ministry said that the organizations act on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and that they served to finance it. It added that they received large sums from European countries and international organizations through a variety of fraudulent methods, which were then used to promote terrorism, recruit operatives and pay them salaries, and pay stipends to families of security prisoners and terrorists.

The statement further claimed that many operatives of the Popular Front are employed at those six organizations “in field and management roles, including operatives who were involved in terrorist activities.” A security source told Haaretz that the main objective of labeling them as terrorist organizations was to hamper their fundraising, as “the European countries will understand where the money is going.”

“Israeli governments’ long history of attempts to financially suffocate Palestinian civil society organizations – including direct appeals to donor countries demanding they cease funding them – shows that the motive to harm them is their political activity,” said Michael Sfard, the legal counsel to several human rights groups in Israel. “This declaration is also meant to stop them from politically and legally challenging the occupation. Accusing them of terror ties is just cover.”

Some of the groups on the list are human rights organizations, including Addameer, which offers legal aid to prisoners, collects data about arrests and administrative detentions and works to stop torture; Al-Haq, which documents violations of Palestinian rights in the Palestinian Territories; and the Palestine branch of Defense for Children International, which tracks the killing of children and the condition of children arrested in Israel. The other organizations are civil society organizations: The Union of Agricultural Work Committees, which helps Palestinian farmers, mostly in Area C of the West Bank; the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees; and the Bisan Center for Research and Development.

The Defense Ministry’s announcement was followed by criticism from within the security apparatus regarding the way the move was made, and mostly over the fact that until then, the materials that caused them to label the organizations as terror groups had not been made public.

The UN human rights commissioner condemned the decision, calling it “an attack on human rights defenders, on freedoms of association, opinion and expression and on the right to public participation” and saying it should be rescinded immediately. She said that the organizations in question are among “the most reputable human rights and humanitarian groups in the occupied Palestinian territory and for decades have worked closely with the UN.”

Political and security sources said that the United States was informed of the move in advance and had received the explanatory intel. However, State Department Spokesman Ned Price denied this.

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) said that her party will “request clarifications” on the subject. In an interview with Channel 11 News, she said that “at least three of these are veteran, well-known human rights organizations… I find it very hard to believe that such respectable NGOs are connected to terrorism.” Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli (Labor) criticized the way the announcement was made and warned that it could damage Israel’s relations with its allies.