Sunday, November 28

Israel takes action against NGOs: uncomfortable critics or terrorists?

As of: 25.10.2021 5:01 a.m.

Israel has classified six Palestinian organizations as “terrorist”. The government accuses them of covert cooperation with the radical Popular Front for the liberation of Palestine. The tough approach leads to criticism.

By Tim Assmann, ARD-Studio Tel Aviv

For at least part of the Israeli government, the matter is clear: Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz is convinced that six Palestinian non-governmental organizations support the militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The groups were infiltrated by PFLP members and international aid in the millions would not benefit humanitarian purposes, but the PFLP, Gantz explained his decision to classify the NGOs as terrorist.

Tim Assmann
ARD-Studio Tel Aviv

Israel’s Justice Minister Gideon Saar shared this classification: “This decision was made on a factual and legal basis after it was reviewed in the Justice Ministry. In this respect, the decision has a stable foundation.”

Call from the ally

But the decision is not undisputed within the Israeli government. Essawi Frej, Arab Israeli, politician of the left-wing Meretz party and Minister for Regional Cooperation does not believe that the groups concerned have a clearly documented terrorist connection. “I think the decision is wrong and inappropriate. You should know how to deal with criticism,” he said. This decision would bring far more disadvantages than advantages to the State of Israel. “I very much hope that the Defense Minister and the Prime Minister recognize the gravity of the situation and reverse the decision.”

Some of the Palestinian NGOs can look back on decades of work and have international influence. One of the groups campaigns for the rights of imprisoned Palestinians. Another organization oversees infrastructure projects in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The best known of the affected NGOs is the human rights group Al Haq, which has been dealing with the consequences of the Israeli occupation policy in the Palestinian territories for more than 40 years, advises the United Nations and is also a project partner of the German Heinrich Böll Foundation.

Organizations require supporting documents

Al-Haq director Shawan Jabrin sees the Israeli decision as an attempt to silence his organization. “Closing the organizations down by declaring them a terrorist group will affect day-to-day work, programs and people,” he said.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or PFLP for short, is classified as a terrorist organization by the EU and the USA. The organizations do not deny that there are connections between the PFLP and individual employees of the NGOs concerned. However, they are demanding evidence from the Israeli side to support the allegation that humanitarian aid funds would benefit the PFLP and its activities.

Israel’s Defense Minister Gantz called on Western states to review their aid payments. If the affected NGOs lose funding from abroad, they would probably have to severely restrict or even stop their work.

Endurance test for coalition?

Israel’s decision to classify the groups as terrorist has been heavily criticized internationally. The US State Department requested more information. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International spoke of a campaign by Israel. Sahar Francis of the affected Adameer group, which organizes legal aid for Palestinian prisoners, hopes that international pressure will not ease.

“We are of course grateful for the official statements by government officials and international organizations in support of Palestinian civil society. We expect this pressure on Israel to take back the decision to continue,” he said.

And the pressure doesn’t just come from outside. The crackdown on the Palestinian NGOs could become an endurance test for the Israeli government coalition.

Inconvenient critics or terrorists? Israel’s crackdown on Palestinian NGOs

Tim Aßmann, ARD Tel Aviv, 24.10.2021 · 21:52

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