AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL and Human Rights Watch have condemned an announcement by the Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, which declares six Palestinian civil society organisations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to be “terrorist” groups.

The designation, made on 19 October 2021, pursuant to a 2016 Israeli statute, effectively outlaws the activities of these civil society groups. It authorises the Israeli authorities to close their offices, seize their assets and arrest and jail their staff members, and it prohibits funding or even publicly expressing support for their activities.

The groups are Addameer, al-Haq, Defence for Children Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, Bisan Centre for Research and Development, and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, both of whom work closely with many of these groups, said in a joint statement: “This appalling and unjust decision is an attack by the Israeli government on the international human rights movement.

“For decades, the Israeli authorities have systematically sought to muzzle human rights monitoring and punish those who criticise its repressive rule over Palestinians. While staff members of our organisations have faced deportation and travel bans, Palestinian human rights defenders have always borne the brunt of the repression.This decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organisations.

“The decades-long failure of the international community to challenge grave Israeli human rights abuses and impose meaningful consequences for them has emboldened Israeli authorities to act in this brazen manner. How the international community responds will be a true test of its resolve to protect human rights defenders.

“We are proud to work with our Palestinian partners and have been doing so for decades. They represent the best of global civil society. We stand with them in challenging this outrageous decision.”

Also responding to the announcement, Daniel Sokatch of the New Israel Fund, which aims to “help Israel live up to its founders’ vision of a society that ensures complete equality to all its inhabitants”, released the following statement: “Gantz’s repressive declaration is a cause for concern for anyone who cares about the future of Israeli democracy and Palestinian rights. In labelling some of the most recognisable Palestinian human and civil rights organisations ‘terrorist’ groups, any action Israel takes against them now will require zero transparency, and – perhaps most dangerous to the basic civil liberties of Israelis and Palestinians – threaten anyone who supports or praises them with up to three years in prison.

“We at the New Israel Fund are all-too familiar with the far-right tactic of smearing organisations that stand up for Palestinian and Israeli human rights with the word terrorist’. Even as we do not work directly with these organisations, we know that overusing this term is often done intentionally to delegitimise civil society. At a time when both Palestinians and Israelis need civil society to work overtime, we stand with all those who work to hold their governments to account.”

* Sources: Amnesty International and New Israel Fund