Palestinian rights groups see muzzle in Israel’s terrorist label

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RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) – Activists on Saturday called on the international community to help reverse Israel’s unprecedented designation of six Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organizations, a label that effectively bans them.

They said the decision amounts to an attempt to silence groups that have documented Israel’s harsh treatment of Palestinians over the years. Some groups have strong ties to rights organizations in Israel and abroad.

Israel claims the targeted groups were a front for a small PLO faction with a violent history, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Israel’s terrorist label for the six groups, some of which receive EU funding, appears to have caught the US and Europe off guard. Israel later insisted that some officials in the Biden administration had been informed in advance.

The movement against rights groups comes at a time when efforts to negotiate terms of a Palestinian state alongside Israel are hopelessly stalled. For years, the United States and Europe have engaged in politically less costly conflict management, rather than pushing for a solution, while Israeli settlements on occupied lands seek a Palestinian state. continued to expand.

Amid paralysis, Europe, in particular, has invested in strengthening Palestinian civil society, an effort that now appears to be challenged by Israel’s decision to ban well-known rights groups. .

The terrorism label would allow Israel to raid the offices of the groups, seize assets, arrest employees and criminalize funding and expressions of support.

Rights groups in Israel and abroad have expressed outrage at the label of “terror.”

Palestinian activists said they were counting on international pressure to overturn the decision.

“We hope that the international community will exert enough pressure on Israel to back down,” said Ubai Aboudi, head of the Bisan Research and Development Center, one of the target groups on Saturday. Aboudi said he had previously been accused by Israel of being a member of the PFLP, but denied ever having been with the group.

Sahar Francis, the director of the prisoners’ rights group Addameer, told a press conference that she was grateful for the international statements of support and that “we expect this campaign and pressure to endure. continue for it to be fruitful “. Addameer is also one of the target groups.

Shawan Jabarin, who heads veterans rights group Al-Haq, said Israel’s designation came as a surprise and the groups had not been notified. Two of the six groups said they would not be forced into hiding despite the uncertainty of their new status,

An Israeli defense official said in a statement on Saturday that the six groups “operate as an organized network” under the leadership of the PFLP. The statement claims the groups serve as a lifeline for the PFLP through fundraising, money laundering and recruiting activists.

He also named several members of the rights groups who were later arrested as suspected members of the military wing of the PFLP. The small PLO faction has a political party and a military wing that carried out attacks that killed Israelis.

The PFLP is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and Western countries.

All six groups have denied the allegations and denounced Israel’s designation as a terrorist as a blatant attempt to crush reporting on human rights violations in the occupied territories, mainly by Israel, but also by the Palestinian self-governing government. more and more authoritarian.

The UN Human Rights Office in the Occupied Palestinian Territory said on Saturday that the reasons given by the Israeli defense minister were “vague or irrelevant,” and denounced his decision as the latest measure of a “long campaign of stigmatization” against the organizations.

The European Union delegation in the Palestinian territories acknowledged funding for the activities of some of the rights groups. He said past allegations of misuse of EU funds by partners “have not been substantiated”, but takes the matter seriously and examines it.

“EU funding for Palestinian civil society organizations is an important part of our support for the two-state solution,” he said on Friday.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, said it had not been given advance notice of the decision and would ask for more information. US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Friday that “we believe that respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and a strong civil society are of critical importance to responsible governance and reactive “.

The other four groups targeted by Israel are Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Working Committees. The majority of organizations target human rights violations by Israel as well as the Palestinian Authority, both of which regularly detain Palestinian activists.

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