Report prepared by Dr. Muhammad Akram Zaheer (Lecturer in International Relations, Informatics Group of College Arifwala)
In the third week of August, Israeli forces raided and forcibly closed the offices of six Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including three leading human rights organizations in the occupied West Bank. The move follows Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Gantz’s decision to designate six civil society groups as “terrorist” organizations in October last year. These groups include the oldest and the most prominent human rights NGO in Palestine and one of the oldest in the Arab world, along with the Adamir Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Defense for Children-International, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees as well as Center for Research and Development, and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees was included. All six institutions, several of which have been at the forefront of advancing ongoing cases against Israel at the International Criminal Court, are respected and have strong ties to foreign NGOs and governments. These groups receive foreign financial support, including many European governments. This move has also been seen as an attempt to shut down organizations by cutting off their funding. The moves were met with shock and outrage by Palestinians, who described the move as a brazen attempt to stifle criticism of Israeli policies. Representatives of European governments, many of which have funded the named groups for years, expressed similar concerns and asked Israel to provide evidence of the allegations. The Biden administration’s response to this has been largely muted, asking only that Israel provide reasons for the raids. The permanent closure of these NGOs by such actions will have dire consequences for their problems and the constituencies they serve. Including the possibility of severe repression by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, there will be far-reaching implications for Palestinian civil society.
In response to the international backlash, Israel promised to provide evidence, including a secret document containing evidence of the groups’ alleged terrorist ties, but has so far failed to convince a single government or donor. The European Union investigation concluded that Israel’s evidence did not meet the required standard of proof. A group of UN human rights experts similarly said Israel had failed to provide any public concrete and credible evidence against the groups. In July, the EU’s nine donor countries – Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden – issued a joint statement categorically rejected the Israeli allegations and citing a lack of evidence. They announced their intention to continue funding to Six Palestinian NGOs, though reportedly the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), have found nothing to back up the Israeli allegations, and the Biden administration has largely avoided commenting on the matter.
Last week, during the military crackdown on NGOs has drawn even more outcry from the international community. The United Nations Human Rights Office has described this move by Israel as completely illogical. In a very public show of solidarity on the day of the raids, representatives of EU diplomatic missions including Germany, Mexico, Poland, the UK and others met with representatives of the six targeted groups, even forcing the US to break its silence. They forced to publicize that it was “concerned” about Israel’s closure of organizations and for the first time expressed that the evidence provided by Israel did not support any justification that civil society take action against organizations. Until the international community, and particularly the United States, are prepared to pressure Israel to change the course of incursion, such gestures may force Israeli authorities for some pause.