Speaking about the Israeli Defense Ministry's 19 October 2021 decision to designate Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association and five other Palestinian civil society organizations as “terror” entities, Addameer director Sahar Francis told the MENA Prison Forum this past April that: “If Israel manages to get away with this terrorist designation,… this will impact Palestinian civil society in its entirety, and this is the aim. [Israeli authorities] want to silence us. They want to prevent us from… supporting the Palestinian people and from challenging the war crimes and crimes against humanity that they are committing.”
Last Thursday, the Israeli government executed measures to further pursue this end. In the pre-dawn hours of 18 August, members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and border police raided the offices of the six designated organizations – Addameer, Al-Haq, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International – Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), and the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees (UPWC) – as well as the office of Health Work Committees (HWC). In the course of the raids, soldiers confiscated computers and printers, destroyed office equipment, and seized legal documents and client files, including those related to Palestinian child detainees tried in Israeli military courts. Upon exiting, soldiers welded shut the office doors, on which they taped closure orders issued by the Israeli military. Those affixed to Addameer's office declared the organization forcibly closed in the name of advancing “security in the region” and “combat[ting] the infrastructure of terrorism.”
The alleged grounds for closure are, in actuality, nothing more than a false, categorically contrived pretense exploited by Israeli authorities in an incessant campaign intended to effectively eliminate all means through which to protect and promote the rights and freedoms of Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories, Gaza, and within Israel's 1948 borders. Last October, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called the terrorist designation of these Palestinian organizations “an attack on human rights defenders, on freedoms of association, opinion and expression and on the right to public participation.” In July, nine European states publicly rejected the designation as baseless.
Israel's unchecked assault on Palestinian activists and human rights defenders nonetheless carries tangible, highly consequential implications that are continually being borne out both locally and internationally. In a joint statement published in response to Thursday's raids, the six designated organizations note that their ordered closure not only places their staff members at imminent risk of arrest and imprisonment, but also seeks to “terminate” credible human rights monitoring and documentation, and “dismantle” all mechanisms through which Israeli abuses might be exposed and accountability upheld – thereby facilitating and thus further entrenching “Israel's settler colonial and apartheid regime” and, by extension, systematically undermining international law.
The eroding international commitment to human rights statutes and norms has, in turn, enabled Israeli authorities to mandate and implement increasingly brazen acts of repression against Palestinian civil society, which is currently under existential threat. It is in large part the global community's enduring and overwhelming inaction that has served to embolden the Israeli government, which has demonstrated time and again that it will not be deterred by American expressions of concern nor European statements of censure.
Indeed, confronted with no meaningful ramifications following last Thursday's raids, Israeli authorities persisted in their harassment and intimidation of these Palestinian organizations. On the morning of 21 August, the general director of Al-Haq, Shawan Jabarin, received a call from an individual claiming to be an officer of the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service. According to Jabarin, the individual summoned him for interrogation at Ofer military prison in the occupied West Bank and threatened “imprisonment, interrogations and other measures, if Al-Haq continues to work.” Hours later, the Shin Bet summoned Khaled Quzmar, director general of Defense for Children – Palestine, to Ofer for interrogation. Prohibited from being accompanied by legal counsel, Mr. Quzmar was released approximately two hours later.
Israel's longstanding and multi-pronged campaign to shrink and ultimately extinguish Palestinian civic space has reached a critical juncture. States must therefore bring to bear the full spectrum of political and diplomatic tools to ensure that Israeli officials immediately repeal last Thursday's closure orders, rescind the terrorist designations, and cease without condition or delay their persecution of peaceful, legitimate human rights defenders and civil society activists.
The failure to do so will constitute the latest and most egregious precedent in the accelerating deterioration of human rights tenets and standards – a precedent upon which Israel and other state and non-state actors, both throughout the MENA region and across the globe, will undoubtedly seize.