Criticism of Israeli label of “terror” for Palestinian groups
Israel’s surprise “terrorist” designation of six Palestinian civil society groups has divided its ruling coalition and shone the spotlight on the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
The decision announced last Friday by Defense Minister Benny Gantz sent shock waves, especially among European donors who support targeted groups and with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Israeli non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, which associate themselves with the Palestinians involved have also expressed their astonishment. The same is true of some in the media, given the importance of the groups involved – especially Al-Haq, an advocacy group founded in 1979 by writer Raja Shehadeh, a contributor to New Yorker magazine.
Gantz also caught fire within the Israeli government, a heavy-handed eight-party alliance that includes left-wing politicians.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, leader of the conciliatory Meretz party, warned that as an occupying military power, Israel must be “very careful in imposing sanctions on Palestinian civil organizations because there are political, diplomatic consequences. and, more importantly, on human rights “.
Transport Minister and Labor leader Merav Michaeli said the way the announcement was made “has caused great damage to Israel along with our biggest and most important friends.”
But Gantz’s office did not hesitate, insisting that a joint investigation by the security establishment had proven that the six groups functioned “as an organized network under the leadership of the PFLP”, like the Marxist group. is known.
The PFLP was founded in 1967 by George Habache – mixing Marxism-Leninism, Arab nationalism and virulent anti-Zionism – eventually becoming the second most powerful Palestinian armed group after Yasser Arafat’s Fatah.
It currently does not have firepower equivalent to the arsenal of rockets held by the leaders of Gaza, Hamas or the Islamic Jihad, but it is active in the international campaign to boycott Israel known as the BDS, short for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions.
The PFLP has been declared a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, and Israel says it was responsible for a 2019 bombing in the West Bank that killed Rina Schnerb, a 17-year-old Israeli.
The leader of the PFLP in Israeli-blockaded Gaza said the designated organizations had “no connection” with his group beyond a “shared ideology opposed to the occupation”.
“These NGOs work with complete independence,” said Jamil Mazher. The PFLP has been a prime target of the Israeli organization NGO Monitor, which tracks the funding and activities of nonprofit groups engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with a particular focus on European donors.
Its chairman Gerald Steinberg said the nominations last week “appear to reflect the impact of the NGO Monitor’s ongoing research.”
NGO Monitor wrote to the European Anti-Fraud Office OLAF in November 2020 to share what it said was proof that EU funds are going to Palestinian NGOs with links to terrorist organizations.
OLAF replied in January that it had “closed the case on the grounds that there is not sufficient suspicion to open an investigation”, according to a letter consulted by AFP.
Israel is not obligated to disclose the evidence it used to support the terrorism designation, secrecy being permitted under the 2016 Anti-Terrorism Law.
The Defense Ministry said the groups had organized PFLP meetings, employed “convicted terrorists” and functioned as a “lifeline” for the PFLP through “fundraising, money laundering and recruitment of activists “.
Tel Aviv University law professor Eliav Lieblich, writing on the Just Security website this week, argued that “it simply cannot be accepted that well-known Palestinian human rights groups and widely respected be designated as “terrorist organizations” by executive order and on the basis of classified intelligence. “
An Israeli official said an envoy would travel to Washington soon to share evidence after the United States said it would seek “more information” on the designations.
Meanwhile, hindsight persists against the decision. Representatives of 25 Israeli civil society groups visited Ramallah on Wednesday to show solidarity with their Palestinian colleagues.
“This attack on Palestinian civil society, on Palestinian organizations, is not new,” Hagai El-Ad, executive director of Israeli rights group B’Tselem, told AFP during the protest.
“What is new,” he added, is that “they are targeting some of the most respected and oldest civil society organizations in Palestine, like Al-Haq,” and that outrage Growing internationality means that Israel may no longer be able to act with “impunity”.