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What you need to know about Israel’s shutdown of Palestinian rights organizations

Israel is trying to silence organizations that have exposed the government’s human rights abuses. The U.S. must act now to protect Palestinian civil society.

Israeli soldiers raid the offices of Defense for Children International - Palestine on Aug. 18.  Photo: Courtesy of Defense for Children International - Palestine

On Aug.18, the Israeli army raided the offices of seven Palestinian human rights and community organizations in the occupied West Bank. Soldiers seized computers and other confidential materials and sealed their doors shut, ordering them closed. 

In the following days, directors of the organizations were interrogated by the Israeli military and Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet). All staff now face the threat of arrest and prosecution.  

Israel’s actions are a clear attempt to silence groups that have exposed the government’s human rights abuses. This comes less than a year after the Israeli government criminalized six of these Palestinian organizations, effectively outlawing their operations.  

Today, the U.S. and international community must stand in solidarity with Palestinian civil society. They must denounce these actions and initiate diplomatic efforts to protect Palestinian human rights defenders. 

Tell your representative: Support H.Res. 751, which condemns Israel’s criminalization of human rights organizations and calls for an immediate reversal.

Here’s what you need to know about the situation.  

The targeted groups are among the world’s most respected Palestinian human rights organizations.

When the International Criminal Court (ICC) formed in 2002, Al-Haq immediately began exploring ways that the new body could hold Israel accountable for violations of Palestinians’ human rights. Al-Haq’s files already contained tens of thousands of detailed testimonies and affidavits documenting decades of Israeli abuses. Over a decade later, Al-Haq and three other Palestinian human rights organizations—Addameer, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza, and Al Mezan—jointly submitted to the ICC detailed case files outlining war crimes committed by Israel in the West Bank and during its attacks on Gaza. These case files spurred the ICC to action. 

Another organization Israel has criminalized is Defense for Children International-Palestine, AFSC’s partner on theNo Way to Treat a Child Campaign. Through our campaign, we have sought to raise awareness about the mistreatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention. The campaign and the tireless advocacy of DCIP has made an impact. In 2017, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum introduced the first-ever congressional legislation demanding protection of Palestinian human rights.  

The Union of Agricultural Working Committees (UAWC), another targeted organization, supports Palestinian farmers and rural communities in Area C, which covers 60% of the West Bank and remains under full Israeli control. UAWC supports Palestinians’ struggle to remain on their land and resist Israeli home demolition and forced displacement policies. This work calls attention to the violence Palestinians in Area C face at the hands of Israeli military and settlers.

UAWC, another targeted organization, supports Palestinians resisting forced displacement and demolitions by the Israeli military. This photo of a road demolition was taken in Area C of the West Bank.  Photo: Almuna Project

Al-Haq, Addameer, DCIP, and UAWC have coordinated with the other two named organizations, Bisan Center for Research and Development and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, and other groups. Over the past two decades, these groups have demonstrated how the situation in Palestine and Israel qualifies as apartheid under international legal definitions. Their work has gained increasing acceptance. Today Israeli groups like B’Tselem and Yesh Din as well as international groups like Human Rights Watch recognize the situation as apartheid—as does AFSC.  

These six organizations have fundamentally shifted international discourse about Palestine while bringing into focus ongoing Israeli human rights abuses. Israel’s criminalization of these organizations is proof of their growing influence and impact.  

The Union of Health Work Committees was the seventh Palestinian organization raided and shut down on Aug. 18. This organization provides critical health care and development services to underserved Palestinian communities. 

Over the last decade, attacks on Palestinian organizations by the Israeli government and its proxy have increased. 

Staff of these organizations have receiveddeath threats, faced arrest and imprisonment without charge or trial, and hadresidency rights revoked. Organizations have had computer systems hacked andoffices raided. And letters alleging misuse of fundshave been sent to donors, resulting in audits. 

Fortunately, these attacks have not gained traction with many in the international community: 

  • Donor governments, includingthe EU, haverejected allegationsthat Palestinian organizations have links to terrorism. 
  • Former EU Ambassador to IsraelLars Faaborg-Andersen criticized allegationsmade by the NGO Monitor, a group supported by the Israeli government. The ambassador noted that the group’s data “are a cocktail of tendentious research, intentional inaccuracies and downright EU-bashing propaganda.” 
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers faced a complaint that their auditors had ignored links between some of the organizations targeted by Israel and terrorist groups. That complaint wasinvestigated and dismissedby the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. 
  • UK Lawyers for Israel alleged that DCIP had links to the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine. That claim was rejected and found libelous by the British Courts.   

Even the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency reportedly assessed information passed on by the Israeli government earlier this year. The CIA found none of the so-called "evidence" supported the Israeli government's claims.  

Israel’s actions escalates its efforts to undermine and defund Palestinian civil society.A high-ranking Israeli security official acknowledged as much, telling the Israeli newspaper Haaretzthat the main objective of criminalizing these organizations “was to hamper their fundraising.” 

The U.S. and international community must act now to protect Palestinian civil society. 

One of the targeted organizations, DCI-Palestine, is AFSC's partner in the No Way to Treat a Child campaign. The organization helped spur the introduction of the first-ever bill in Congress to protect Palestinian rights (introduced by Rep. Betty McCollum, pictured at a briefing in Washington, D.C.). Photo: Carl Roose / AFSC
The U.S. government and international community must demand an end to Israel’s criminalization of these organizations. Human rights groups should not be punished for holding Israel accountable for human rights violations, which will only encourage further abuses.   

The response from the U.S. and international community must demonstrate to Palestinians that their rights matter. If we allow human rights organizations to be shuttered and nonviolent activists to be threatened and arrested, then what paths toward change are left for Palestinians facing oppression?  

We must uplift the work of these organizations. We must stand with them to demand accountability for Israeli rights violations, including an end to the military occupation and U.S. military funding to the Israeli government. Without our collective action to hold Israel accountable, these attacks on civil society and human rights defenders will only continue.  

About the Authors

Jennifer Bing has worked at AFSC since 1989, serving in various capacities in its Israel-Palestine programs. She directs the AFSC Palestine Activism Program in Chicago and works with her colleagues Palestine and Israel.

Mike Merryman-Lotze is the American Friends Service Committee’s Middle East Program Director.  He coordinates AFSC’s Israel and Palestine focused advocacy and policy programming, working closely with AFSC’s offices in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and throughout the US. 

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