Israel’s closing of Palestinian organizations for alleged terrorist links draws diplomatic backlash


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TEL AVIV — Israel closed the offices of five leading Palestinian rights organizations in an early morning raid in Ramallah on Thursday, tightening its restrictions on civil society nearly a year after labeling the organizations as terrorist groups in an internationally criticized decision.

Israel says the organizations have ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an armed group that has carried out deadly attacks against Israel. Rights groups deny the allegation and the United Nations has criticized the decision.

The groups accuse Israel of targeting them because of their political activism against Israeli rule and their work documenting alleged abuses in the occupied territories.

Israel moves to ban six Palestinian rights groups it accuses of terrorism, sparking international outrage

State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Thursday that the United States was “concerned” about the shutdowns and had “sent the message that there has to be a very high bar for taking action. against civil society organisations”.

Israel, he said, “let us know it had reached that high bar,” but had yet to provide the requested information based on its actions. The information Israel provided last October when it designated the organizations as terrorism-related did not lead to similar designations by the United States, Price said, adding, “We haven’t seen anything in recent months which has led us to change our approach and our position. on these particular organizations.

The US Office for Palestinian Affairs in Jerusalem declined to comment.

The escalation is the latest blow to Palestinians who say they have a shrinking space for political expression and dissent at a time when there are few international efforts to end the conflict and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

The designation last year led many European supporters to suspend funding for the groups. But the European Union said Israel had failed to provide sufficient evidence proving links to the PFLP. In July, nine EU countries said they would continue to work with the organisations.

In a denial of the israeli closure order, diplomatic missions from 17 countries, including Britain and France, met with al-Haq representatives in his office on Thursday evening.

“These accusations are not new and Israel has failed to even convince its friends,” Shawan Jabarin, the director of al-Haq, a human rights group, told The Associated Press on Thursday. internationally respected man who was among those targeted.

Other organizations raided were Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, the Bisan Center for Research and Development and Addameer, which defends Palestinian prisoners, according to a statement from the Israeli Defense Ministry.

In April, the United Nations called on the international community to support the six organizations. “Israel’s disturbing designation of these organizations as ‘terrorist organizations’ has not been accompanied by any concrete and credible public evidence,” said the statement attributed to human rights experts under the auspices of the Office of the High Commissioner. to human rights.

Last year, Israel named the Union of Agricultural Work Committees as having ties to terrorism.

Al-Haq said Israeli forces knocked its locked door off the hinges and set off alarms. He said soldiers searched every room, going through files and scattering them around the office. The group added that the property around the church under the office was littered with shards of glass and other signs of the raid.

The soldiers then “closed the main entrance with an iron plate leaving behind a military order declaring the organization illegal”, the group said.

The Israel Defense Forces said it “confiscated property” during the raids.

Defense for Children International-Palestine said security camera footage showed soldiers taking away items including computers and client files. Addameer said his office door was kicked in and materials were stolen.

Israel announced the groups’ alleged terrorist ties in October. On Wednesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz endorsed the declaration.

“All of the organizations in question operate under the cover and aegis of the PFLP in Judea and Samaria, as well as abroad,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement, using Israeli names for the West Bank.

Adalah, a Palestinian-run legal center based in Haifa, said the raids took place shortly after the Israeli military dismissed objections it sent on behalf of the six organizations.

“These organizations have had and have no ability to defend themselves against secret evidence that Israeli security forces hold against them,” the group said in a statement. “This attack on Palestinian civil society is an attack on the entire Palestinian people and their right to self-determination.”

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Some of these organizations also focus on human rights abuses by the Palestinian Authority, which rules parts of the West Bank and frequently arrests activists and critics. Palestinian leaders, whose last election was more than 15 years ago, are widely unpopular in the West Bank, in part because of their security coordination with Israel, which includes operations like Thursday’s raids.

At the same time, Israel is waging a military crackdown in the occupied West Bank targeting armed groups. This partly led to a short dogfight between Israel and a militant group in the Gaza Strip this month. The wave of raids in the West Bank began this spring amid Palestinian attacks that killed 19 people in Israel.

But human rights groups – among those targeted on Thursday – accused Israel of acting too aggressively and with impunity against Palestinians in the West Bank. Israeli forces have killed dozens since the spring; most recently, on Thursday, they killed a Palestinian in the West Bank city of Nablus. Israel said it fired at soldiers in clashes. The Palestinians have denied this claim.

Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.

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