For decades, Palestinian NGO’s have played a key role in monitoring and documenting Israel’s crimes and violations.
More recently, Israel has made concerted efforts to curb the work of these organisations, including raiding the offices of DCI Palestine and seizing their equipment immediately after the assault on Gaza. DCI Palestine had recorded all the names of the children killed in that attack and the circumstances in which they were killed. This information made headline news worldwide when the New York Times and Irish Times carried the story of these children’s deaths. Israel has arrested human rights defenders, defamed them in the media, imposed illegal military orders and stolen sensitive files which documented occupation crimes.
Since 2015, Israel has begun cracking down on human rights organisations that made submissions to the International Criminal Court. In 2016, the Israeli Parliament adopted the “NGO Disclosure Law” to force Israeli NGO’s to disclose funding sources, causing a chilling effect on donations. In 2017, Israel enacted an amendment to the “Entry to Israel” law, barring human rights workers who advocate for Palestinians from entering. In 2018, the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs called on the EU to cease donating to or funding Palestinian human rights organisations. This year, attacks on the Palestinian curriculum saw an attempt to reserve funding to UNRWA who provide education for millions of Palestinian children.
This latest outrageous act by Israeli occupation forces will pave the way for criminalisation of human rights workers and advocates, seizure of assets and closure of offices. Their goal is to suppress dissent and criticism of its appalling human rights abuses in Palestine.
Each of the newly-outlawed groups plays a vital role in civil society:
Each of these organisations works to champion the rights of Palestinians who are exploited or oppressed by illegal occupation, and each provides vital services in their field. The loss of these groups would have dire consequences for the Palestinians whose rights they fight for. It will certainly make it easier for the occupation to further subjugate the basic rights of Palestinians as they work to expand their settler-colonial project.
Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney TD, has said “Ireland is committed to funding civil society organisations and human rights defenders through the Irish Aid Programme, including Palestinian civil society, and maintains robust checks to ensure that our funding is used only for the purpose intended. Previous allegations against civil society organisations in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) which are supported by Ireland and the EU have not been substantiated… Civil Society Organisations and human rights defenders play a critical role in promoting international law, peace, human rights and democratic values. Ireland will continue to support such efforts bilaterally and at EU and UN level.”
The UN Special Rapporteurs released a joint statement saying “This designation is a frontal attack on the Palestinian human rights movement, and on human rights everywhere,” said the experts. “Silencing their voices is not what a democracy adhering to well-accepted human rights and humanitarian standards would do. We call upon the international community to defend the defenders.”
B’Tselem, an Israeli NGO, said “The [Israeli] Minister of Defence’s designation of prominent Palestinian civil society organizations, among them, our colleagues in the Palestinian human rights community, as terrorist organizations, is a draconian measure that criminalizes critical human rights work. Documentation, advocacy, and legal aid are fundamental activities for the protection of human rights worldwide. Criminalizing such work is an act of cowardice, characteristic of repressive authoritarian regimes. Civil society and human rights defenders must be protected.”
Many of these human rights organisations have spent decades advocating for the rights of Palestinians, without fear or favour. Now, the international community must advocate for them, “defend the defenders” and ensure that this order is rescinded. These organisations must be allowed to continue their vital work. The international community can help by maintaining their support of Palestinian NGO’s, providing protection for Palestinian civil society and ensuring accountability for Israeli occupation crimes against the Palestinian people.