On 23 October 2021, Palestinian civil society organizations, hosted a joint press conference at Al-Haq Center for Applied International Law in Ramallah. The press conference addressed the sharp escalation in Israel’s widespread and systematic attacks and smear campaigns against Palestinian human rights defenders and civil society organizations culminating in their unprecedented designation as “terrorist organizations,” under Israel’s domestic Anti-Terrorism Law of 2016. The targeted organisations are: Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Al-Haq Law in the Service of Man (Al-Haq), Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC).
General Director of Al-Haq, Shawan Jabarin, explained that the designation was unexpected and took the human rights organisations by surprise. “We had not been notified earlier in this regard, we knew from the media, just like you. The Jerusalem Post announced this designation one hour prior to the official announcement by the Defense Ministry on its page.” Mr Jabarin conveyed a staunch message of resilience and steadfastness to the local and international media in attendance emphasising that the work of Al-Haq will not be thwarted by Israel’s smear campaign: “This is a political decision [by Israel] and not a security one. We, in civil society organizations, challenge the Israeli political and security officials to prove their claims about our work. This decision comes in a series of institutionalised practices aiming at smearing Palestinian human rights NGOs and human rights defenders, silencing them on the international level, draining their work, and targeting their resources. We are confident in the solidarity of our friends and partners around the world, those who believe in international law and the rule of law.”
Unperturbed by the designation, Mr Jabarin confidently dismissed the impact that the attack may potentially have on the work of the civil society organisations, maintaining that “we will continue our work as we used to do, as if there is no decision or designation by the Israeli Ministry. We will fight for the rights and freedoms of the Palestinian people, because our organizations belong to them and not to us.” In summation, Mr Jabarin reminded that Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity are currently under investigation before the International Criminal Court (ICC), and that senior political actors in the Israeli parliament may be found individually criminally accountable in the Hague.
General Director of Addameer, Sahar Francis, reiterated concerns that the designations were linked to the progress of the investigation before the ICC. Further she explained that the attacks by Israel were a direct reprisal against the success of the Palestinian human rights organisations stating: “Such decisions and practices indicate that Israel is deeply concerned of the widespread work of our organizations. We have developed the discourse used in addressing this occupation; started to use words like “apartheid” and “the ICC.” Moreover, the success of the boycott campaigns and the resilience of the Palestinian people in their lands in Area C are just some examples of the success of our work.”
Ms Francis warned that all civil society organisations were now at risk, and that an attack against one, represented an attack against all. She further articulated that the risk may also potentially extend to donors and partner organisations, stating: “We demand from these organizations to take immediate actions to address this systematic attack. We must develop applicable security and accountability strategies to hold accountable all the perpetrators [of international crimes].”
Assistant Minister for Multilateral Affairs, State of Palestine, Ammar Hijazi, lauded the integrity of the Palestinian civil society organisations and explained how the State of Palestine had called for the international community to support the civil society organisations and human rights defenders. Mr Hijazi highlighted the State of Palestine’s important position against the designations and expectations from the international community stating: “We expect from the international bodies and organizations including the UN Secretary General and the High Commissioner to announce their clear and absolute position on this decision. We also expect the absolute refusal of this decision by the EU and the relevant agencies; they should not comply with this decision, or otherwise, the Palestinian government will re-visit its relationship with them.”