Israel has issued a military order designating six prominent Palestinian human rights groups as “terrorist organisations”, in a move swiftly condemned by the Palestinian Authority and rights groups.
The Israeli Ministry of Defence claimed on Friday that the groups were linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a left-wing movement with a political party as well as an armed wing that has carried out deadly attacks against Israelis.
The ministry said the humanitarian groups “constitute a network of organisations active undercover on the international front on behalf of the Popular Front.” They are “controlled by senior leaders” of the PFLP and employ its members, including some who had “participated in terror activity”, it said.
It also accused the groups of serving as a “central source” of financing for the PFLP and of having received “large sums of money from European countries and international organisations,” without elaborating.
The designated groups include Al-Haq, a human rights group founded in 1979, the Addameer rights group, Defence for Children International-Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.
The PA condemned what it said was an “unhinged assault” on Palestinian civil society.
“This fallacious and libellous slander is a strategic assault on Palestinian civil society and the Palestinian people’s fundamental right to oppose Israel’s illegal occupation and expose its continuing crimes,” it said.
In a joint statement, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch noted that the military order “effectively outlaws” the activities of the six groups.
As a consequence, Israeli security forces are authorised to close the groups’ offices, seize their assets and arrest and jail their staff members. Funding or even publicly expressing support for their activities is also prohibited.
“This appalling and unjust decision is an attack by the Israeli government on the international human rights movement,” Amnesty and HRW said.
Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at HRW, told Al Jazeera that Israel’s move was part of a “systematic assault on human rights advocacy”.
“I think this is a reaction to the Israeli government’s recognition that there is growing awareness about their grave abuses, including crimes against humanity, apartheid and persecution against millions of Palestinians,” Shakir said.
“It’s really an alarming development and it’s a test of the international community’s resolve to protect human rights defenders in the face of sustained assault.”
Shakir, who now resides in Jordan, said he was the target of punitive action when he was deported by Israel two years ago for his work in documenting human rights abuses.
Shawaan Jabareen, who heads one of the outlawed groups, Al-Haq, told the AFP news agency that the designation was a “political decision” that had nothing to do with security matters but was aimed at “stopping the work of these organisations”.
Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has called the government’s declaration “an act characteristic of totalitarian regimes, with the clear purpose of shutting down these organisations”.
“B’Tselem stands in solidarity with our Palestinian colleagues, is proud of our joint work over the years – and is steadfast to continue so,” it said.