Shawan Jabarin, director of the al-Haq human rights group, at the organization's offices in the West Bank city of Ramallah

Israeli designation of 6 NGOs as terrorist organizations 'criminalizes' civil society work, media consultant says

Nour Odeh, a media consultant based in Ramallah and former spokesperson for the Palestinian Prime Minister's Office, discussed the move with The World's host Carol Hills.

The World

Shawan Jabarin, director of the al-Haq human rights group, at the organization's offices in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Oct. 23, 2021.

Majdi Mohammed/AP

Israel's defense minister has designated six Palestinian rights groups as terrorist organizations.

Israel says the groups are connected to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which has been behind attacks in the past.

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The announcement brought swift condemnation. The US State Department said it was never notified of the decision, and human rights campaigners say the terror designations are baseless. Activists called on the international community on Saturday to help reverse Israel's unprecedented decision.

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The six outlawed organizations are al-Haq, Addameer, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, Defense for Children International-Palestine and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.

The head of the veteran rights group Al-Haq, Shawan Jabarin, said that Israel's designation came as a surprise and that the groups had not been given a heads up. Two of the six groups said they would not be forced underground despite the uncertainty of their new status.

Nour Odeh, a media consultant based in Ramallah, who is a former spokesperson for the Palestinian Prime Minister's Office, discussed the move with The World's Carol Hills.

Carol Hills: What do these six groups do?
Nour Odeh: These six are basically the creme de la creme of the human rights community in Palestine.
How is Israel linking these groups to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which has been behind terrorist attacks in the past? How are they drawing a line?
Well, I mean, the last reports I've seen is that Israel claims that that evidence is classified. So, I'm not sure what it has. Basically, Israel used the terror trump card thinking that it can obscure the fact that these are prominent, world-class human rights defenders. They also work internationally. But we have to remember the context. Israel, just two years ago kicked out Human Rights Watch and banned its director from operating in the West Bank or Gaza or inside Israel proper. It failed to convince members of Congress who are working with DCI Palestine Defense for Children International, the Palestine chapter. They're working with them on US legislation about the rights of Palestinian children. Israel tried to lobby European governments that assist and fund these groups to defund them, to basically choke them financially into nonexistence. And it failed.

 

Israel has signaled that they want to allow civil society to do its work in the Palestinian territories. Do these sorts of labels prevent that work from happening?
It doesn't just prevent it, it criminalizes it. So, we might see their bank accounts being shut down. Another possible outcome is that we may see these prominent human rights defenders detained and imprisoned, including a much-used Israeli tactic of so-called "administrative detention," which is basically using secret evidence to detain someone for an indefinite amount of time of a renewable six-month period. We could see a raid of the Israeli military into the heart of Ramallah to shut down these organizations. We worry that they would happen because they've happened in the past against other organizations.
Israel has offered no evidence for these designations, but if it turned out Israel actually is right about these groups, that there's some kind of connection to the PFLP, what would that mean?
Well, it depends. First of all, Palestinians have a right to political association. The PFLP is not an outlawed political faction in Palestine. I know for a fact that these organizations are run by professionals.

 

You were a former spokesperson for the Palestinian government. Does this remind you of past disagreements with Israel that you were involved in personally?
When I was spokesperson, it was a different political time, if you will. And these tactics were used but in a far more limited scope. So, we've seen this campaign escalate year by year against all those exposing Israeli violations of human rights or calling for accountability.

 

Is this kind of accountability a part of this story?
Most definitely. This is the story. The more these organizations have become effective in seeking accountability, the more Israel pushed to shut them down.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. AP contributed to this report.