Al Mezan Center for Human expresses its deepest concerns and strongest condemnation of the latest escalation of Israel’s crackdown against Palestinian civil society organizations and human rights defenders in the occupied West Bank, which pose an existential threat to the very existence of Palestinian civil society.
In the early hours of Thursday, 18 August 2022, Israeli forces raided the offices of seven Palestinian civil society organizations in Ramallah, occupied West Bank. The seven raided organizations—Addameer Prisoners Support & Human Rights Association, Al-Haq, Defense for Children-Palestine (DCI-P), Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC), Bisan Center for Research and Development, and the Union of Health Work Committees (UHWC)—are all prominent and highly respected Palestinian human rights and development organizations active both internationally and locally. During the raids, Israeli forces damaged office equipment, confiscated property and materials, welded iron slabs over entrance doors, and left behind military orders at the doors of each organization ordering their immediate closure.
Within days of the raids, Israel also individually threatened and held in custody some staff of the organizations. On 21 August 2022, Israel threatened Shawan Jabrin, Al-Haq’s General Director, who received a phone call from a person claiming to be from the Shin Bet/Shabak, Israel’s security service, summoning him for interrogation at the Ofer military base. Instead, Jabarin requested the summons be sent in a formal letter through lawyers. The interlocutor informed Jabarin that Israel has declared Al-Haq an illegal entity and a terrorist organization, threatening him with arrest should he continue with his work. On the same day, Khaled Quzmar, lawyer and General Director at DCI-P, was summoned for questioning. According to DCI-P, Quzmar was held in custody by the Shin Bet/Shabak for about two hours and then released.
Back in October 2021, Israel unlawfully outlawed and designated as ‘terrorists’ six of the raided organizations—Addameer, Al-Haq, Bisan Center, DCI-P, UAWC, and UPWC—while the seventh, the UHWC, was outlawed the year before. Only a few hours ahead of the raids, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz ratified the designation of three organizations—Addameer, Bisan Center, and UPWC. Gantz decision came after the appeals filed by Al-Haq and DCI-P to contest Israel’s unlawful designation have been dismissed.
The Israeli military order to raid, seize property, and shut down Palestinian organizations operating in accordance with Palestinian law in Palestinian territory represents an unprecedented escalation of attacks against Palestinian civil society. These moves are designed not only to obstruct human rights monitoring in the occupied Palestinian territory but also to persecute organizations and individuals who criticize Israel’s settler-colonial and apartheid regime against the Palestinian people as a whole.
Yet, although these events represent the most serious escalation of attacks against Palestinian civil society carried out by Israel in recent times, these moves are not new. Israeli authorities have intensified their systematic attacks against Palestinian civil society at least since 2014, devoting substantial resources and using various tools and methods to silence and restrict the space of Palestinian CSOs, notably those human rights organizations that seek to end Israel's long-standing impunity, including before the International Criminal Court.
Al Mezan welcomes the positions of states and international organizations that have rejected Israel’s false accusations and announced their continued cooperation with the targeted organizations. Al Mezan also welcomes the statements of the European Union and some member states, as well as their visit to the targeted organizations on 18 August. However, this support should be reflected in concrete measures to reverse Israel's decision and protect Palestinian CSOs.
The international community—particularly the European Union, its member states, and the United States of America—must take concrete and tangible steps to end this escalation, including by calling on Israel to immediately reverse the designation of Palestinian rights groups as ‘terrorist’ and stop criminalizing the work of the seven organizations and their staff. Palestinian civil society organizations and human rights defenders must be able to pursue their vital work freely and without any threats, in full exercise of their human rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and association.