3rd Mar 2024


Israel's besmirching of Palestine NGOs must be reversed

  • With its latest defaming designation, Israel strives to shake and rattle this common foundation (Photo: Reham Alhelsi)
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On 19 October, the Israeli defence ministry designated six organisations of the Palestinian civil society as "terrorist organisations," pursuant to its domestic Counter-Terrorism Law of 2016.

The six organisations count amongst the most influential and internationally-recognised actors of the Palestinian civil society, working on crucial issues spanning from human rights, children and women's rights, social and economic development: Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Al-Haq Law in the Service of Man, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees.

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  • Shawan Jabarin: 'It is essential that the EU and member states not only officially condemn Israel's designation, but also ensure it will not be rendered de facto applicable in their territories - notably through the bank system'

Against the background of prolonged occupation, accelerated settlement expansion and institutionalised oppression, Israel has been escalating its attacks on human rights defenders, placing Shatha Odeh, general director of the Palestinian Health Work Committee, under administrative detention, and revoking French-Palestinian lawyer Salah Hammouri's Jerusalem residency.

The organisations' designations come as the latest effort of an Israeli-orchestrated smear campaign to discredit and delegitimise their essential human rights work, equating it to terrorist acts, with full awareness of the implications that such labelling carries within a European context.

The designation perfectly fits into Israel's long-conceived strategy to besmirch Palestinian civil society voices under false allegations of terrorism and antisemitism, while pressuring any international actor that grants them a hearing, and actively demanding their defunding.

The European Union space has been shrinking as well, and European organisations supporting or funding Palestinian civil society have become the collateral victims of Israel's smear campaigns against the Palestinian civil society. This has taken the shape of various lobbying efforts spearheaded by the Israeli government officials to meet with European counterparts and demand the ceasing of their funding to Palestinian organisations.

Such efforts culminated with an inflammatory and false report - The Money Trail - in May 2018, published by the Israeli ministry of strategic affairs to attack EU funding to Palestinian and international non-governmental organisations, based on the same defaming themes of terrorism, antisemitism, and attacks on the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.

'Chilling effect' in Europe

Overall, these political manoeuvres aim at creating a chilling effect on the European civil society, impacting European support and donations. Israel seeks to shatter the trust and confidence at the basis of the European-Palestinian relationship, and entrench its domination on the ground by taking effective control and assuming oversight over European funding to the Palestinian civil society. In doing so, Israel and its allied disinformation groups not only ensure the actual shrinking of the Palestinian civil space, but also that of the European civil society, its values and its human rights legacy.

The EU, represented by its member states, European governments, organisations and individuals of the European civil society, have been and continue to represent essential partners of the Palestinian people in their struggle for human rights and justice.

Our partnership is premised upon a common set of fundamental values and principles, that of the rule of law, democracy and human rights for all peoples.

In its landmark decision Baldassi and Others v. France in 2020, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that peaceful civil society actions of Palestinian solidarity activists against Israel are protected as part of the exercise of the right to freedom of expression.

With its latest defaming designation, Israel strives to shake and rattle this common foundation.

This follows on from the targeting of Palestinian human rights organisations submitting communications to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, including death threats against Al-Haq's staff such as myself and legal researcher Nada Kiswanson.

In every challenge, there is an opportunity, namely of reaffirming our shared values, and of strengthening the role played by EU member states, their governments, civil societies and individuals in the pursuance of the rule of law, human rights, justice and accountability in Palestine.

Europe must play its part to oppose the shrinking of our common set of values, and support the Palestinian people's quest for justice and accountability.

It is essential that the EU and its member states not only officially condemn Israel's designation as an internationally wrongful act, but also ensure that such designation will not be rendered de facto applicable in their territories - notably through the bank system – and finally, use their good offices to demand its immediate rescission, as well as that of its counter-terrorism law, which alarmingly breaches core human rights standards.

The European civil society cannot let Israel's unlawful designation affect its crucial relationship with the Palestinian human rights movement, nor can it let Israel dictate its own space for action on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea. Now is the time to stand firm for our shared values, and for Europe to stand with the Palestinian people.

Author bio

Shawan Jabarin is general director of Al-Haq, the independent Palestinian non-governmental human rights organisation based in Ramallah, West Bank. Established in 1979 to protect and promote human rights and the rule of law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), the organisation has special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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