Israel’s criminalisation of Palestinians resisting foreign domination did not begin with the recent order declaring six prominent groups “terror organisations”.
This dangerous development is the logical outcome of decades of impunity and repression against any Palestinian assembly that challenges Israel’s regime of apartheid, occupation and colonisation.
One of the groups targeted by Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz’s “terror” designation order is Al-Haq, which was founded in 1979 and is one of the oldest Arab human rights organisations.
Now Israel is applying a draconian 2016 anti-terror law for the first time, accusing Al-Haq and five other groups of operating as covert arms of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) a leftist political party and resistance organisation.
That group is banned by Israel as well as the United States and the European Union because it refuses to go along with the Oslo accords surrender — refuses to recognise Israel and renounce armed resistance.
International law recognises the legitimacy of armed struggle in anti-colonial and anti-occupation struggles against foreign domination.
Criminalising resistance groups like the PFLP serves the oppressor.
Israel has repeatedly jailed lawmaker and human rights defender Khalida Jarrar based on her membership with the PFLP without meaningful protest from Washington and Brussels.
Governments have criminalised the Palestinian movement for national liberation by designating the PFLP and other factions that reject normalisation with their oppressor as terror organisations.
The criminalisation of political factions broadly impacts Palestinian society.
Israel lobby and lawfare groups like NGO Monitor, UK Lawyers for Israel and Shurat HaDin have waged smear campaigns against Palestinian human rights groups, attempting to link them with “terror” to discredit, defund and disrupt their work.
While repeatedly finding such claims to be without merit, European governments have given in to these defamation campaigns.
The EU requires groups to sign documents that legitimise the criminalisation of Palestinian political groupings — conditions that some organisations have rejected and thus lost funding.
Meanwhile, Palestinian human rights groups and other organisations have to divert resources from their core work to fulfill onerous auditing requirements to receive European funding.
These conditions, first imposed by US government agencies and private foundations, have increasingly restricted the work of Palestinian groups.
Palestinian organisations must deal with funders’ increased demands as Israel arrests their workers, raids their offices and prevents staff from traveling abroad or between the West Bank and Gaza.
Meanwhile, the US and EU lavish Israel with weapons and grants to develop repression technology “field-tested” on Palestinian bodies.
The hypocrisy and double standards are mind-boggling.
While banning Palestinian resistance groups, Washington flouts US law that prohibits the government from assisting units of foreign militaries when there is credible information that those units violated human rights with impunity.
Al-Haq leads the way in monitoring and documenting those human rights violations and advocating to burst Israel’s bubble of impunity at the international level.
Al-Haq and two other groups targeted by Israel’s defence ministry order — Addameer and Defense for Children International Palestine — have filed evidence of war crimes to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Benny Gantz is likely being investigated by the court for his military chief and defence ministry roles in the 2014 and 2021 assaults on Gaza, during which the Israeli air force bombed civilian towers and obliterated entire families in their homes.
Al-Haq founder Raja Shehadeh said Gantz’s terror group order is likely to be followed by one from Israel’s military commander in the West Bank.
That would mean that anyone working for any of the six targeted groups, providing services or expressing support for them, “will be subject to arrest on terrorist charges”.
The organisations’ “financial assets will be confiscated and Israeli banks will stop any funding from reaching it”, Shehadeh adds.
Barring significant international pressure on Israel, “in two months there won’t be a Palestinian civil society”, according to Ubai al-Aboudi, director of Bisan Center for Research and Development, one of the targeted groups.
Israel’s abettors and enablers
While Israel moves to starve Palestinian groups of the funding necessary to carry out their international advocacy work, its powerful international friends have sought to undermine accountability at the Hague.
Their toothless statements of concern over the terror group designations must be understood in the context of their willingness to help Israel evade justice.
It took Canada a week to acknowledge Israel’s attack on the Palestinian groups while stating no position against it.
In true settler state solidarity with Israel, Canada made thinly veiled threats to withdraw funding in a letter to the ICC stating its opposition to an investigation in the West Bank and Gaza last year.
Canada also paved the way for the siege on Gaza, now in its 15th year, by boycotting the elected Hamas government and cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA), citing the group’s refusal to recognise Israel and give up Palestinians’ right to armed resistance.
Ottawa restored funding to the PA a year-and-a half-later after the Western-backed Fatah party led by Mahmoud Abbas seized control of the West Bank, leaving Gaza isolated and forsaken.
Israel’s international friends appear happy for the siege on Gaza to become as permanent as the occupation as a whole as they consolidate Tel Aviv’s impunity.
In Washington, President Joe Biden's administration has voiced no protest against the terror group designations. The only government-level pushback has been a draft resolution signed by a handful of House representatives.
The draft resolution upholds the “courageous work being done by the six Palestinian civil society organisations defending the human rights of a vulnerable and at-risk Palestinian population living under Israeli military occupation”.
But many more members of Congress on both sides of the political aisle signed on to a letter drafted by the Israel lobby giant, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, supporting the Donald Trump administration’s efforts to sabotage the ICC's probes into war crimes in Palestine and Afghanistan.
These efforts included placing economic sanctions on Fatou Bensouda, the former ICC chief prosecutor whose term ended in June, placing her in the company of international “terrorists” and drug traffickers.
Though it has lifted the sanctions, the Biden administration has quietly attempted to pressure the PA into dropping the case at the ICC.
Yet another green light for Israel to continue to build settlements in violation of international law and kill scores of Palestinians with US weapons without consequence.
Deference to the oppressor
Though Washington may be Israel’s principal abettor, it is hardly the only enabler.
The eagerness of the EU and UN bodies to defer to Israel is further indication that Palestinian human rights workers will be thrown to the wolves.
Israel informed the EU embassy in Tel Aviv in advance of its intentions to designate Palestinian rights groups as “terrorist organisations.” The EU failed to relay this information to member states, some of which have pushed back against the Israeli move.
EU spokesperson Peter Stano told The Electronic Intifada that “we will be engaging Israeli authorities for more information regarding the basis for these designations”.
It is a statement of total deference to what human rights groups based in Israel have called “an act of cowardice, characteristic of repressive authoritarian regimes”.
Perhaps even worse than the EU’s spineless statement of concern was that made by Lynn Hastings, the UN humanitarian coordinator in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
While acknowledging the “increasing pressures on civil society,” Hastings said she was “engaging with the Israeli authorities to learn more about the allegations” when they should be rejected out of hand.
Hastings also serves as “deputy special coordinator for the Middle East peace process” — an office under the UN secretary-general that has sought to promote normalisation between Arab states and Israel while pushing for the surrender of resistance groups in Gaza.
Hastings’ office, along with Washington and Brussels, supports Israel’s regime change mission in Gaza and expects Palestinians there to capitulate to Israel and surrender to its rule.
Some international organisations rallying to the six Palestinian groups’ defence are also in the habit of giving Israel the benefit of the doubt but not affording Palestinians the same.
Human Rights Watch unequivocally condemns Palestinian rocket fire as a war crime, while using qualifying language regarding Israeli airstrikes on civilian targets in Gaza, saying that they are “apparent” war crimes.
This is despite Israeli leaders making it clear that their objective was to use overwhelming and disproportionate force to terrorise civilians, as has characterised Israel’s bombing campaigns in Lebanon and Gaza since 2006.
Israel’s anti-terrorism law of 2016 empowers the defence minister to declare a group a “terrorist organisation” without allowing targeted parties the right to a hearing or any review of the decision.
+972 Magazine, an English-language publication based in Israel, reported that the order was based on “intelligence” gathered by the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic spy agency.
Where Israel’s powerful friends shrug and do nothing, supporters of Palestinian rights are pushing for meaningful action to end impunity for good.
Hundreds of organisations in the US are calling on the Biden administration to push back against the terror designations and support Palestinians seeking justice at the ICC.
Those wishing to challenge Israel’s regime of oppression must start with the institutions and states that enable its crimes.
[Abridged from The Electronic Intifada.]