Security Official: Israel Told U.S. It Would Classify Palestinian NGOs as Terror Groups in Advance

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Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz  signed an order declaring six civil society organizations in the West Bank as terrorist organizations
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed an order declaring six civil society organizations in the West Bank as terrorist organizations Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

An Israeli security official said that the Biden administration was informed in advance of the Defense Ministry's decision to brand six Palestinian civil society organizations as terrorist organizations, contrary to claims by the U.S. on Friday that they were left in the dark. 

The U.S. was sent intel on how the groups "operate as an organized network under the leadership of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine," a briefing by the security source claimed. 

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The official added that they shared information with the U.S. on how money was siphoned by the organizations to the PFLP, and how they recruited activists both to the PFLP and its military wing.

The information, the source said, was based on an investigation by the Shin Bet between March and May of this year, which also found that the groups had "falsified" documents about activities that never occurred in order to secure funds for the PFLP. 

The security source cited as an example the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, which assists Palestinian farmers in Area C. He said that two members of the PFLP, Samer Arbid and Abed al-Razek, led the NGO until their arrest for involvement in the murder of Rina Shnerb in 2019. Arbid was charged with murder and Faraj was charged with aiding and abetting murder, as well as with holding office in an unrecognized organization.

The source also cited Bisan Center's activities as another example of such involvement in acts of terror. According to the source, the center used to host PFLP meetings. Until his arrest, the center was led by Attaref Rimawi – a member of the group's military wing which carried out terror attacks, including the murder of Shnerb.

According to the source, Addameer, an organization which offers legal support to Palestinian prisoners, has conveyed messages and instructions on behalf of the PFLP. Their offices, the source added, "are used for activities and meetings with the leaders of the PFLP."

In recent months, the defense establishment said it established a direct link between the six groups and the PFLP, arresting several junior employees between March and May. They added that there was "substantive intel" indicating that the organizations held meetings where terrorist acts were discussed, and efforts were even made to recruit people to carry them out. 

A different security official added that the investigation lasted around a year and a half, and involved discussions between the Foreign Ministry, Justice Ministry and the Shin Bet. 

The same official said that "hundreds" of similar warrants had been issued against organizations and individuals over the period of the investigation. 

However, the evidence remains under wraps, spurring criticism from within the coalition. 

Also on Saturday, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz asked Gantz to disclose the evidence that led to the decision to the government.

In an interview with Channel 13, Horowitz said that classifying civil society is "problematic," adding that the security establishment must provide the evidence to the public. According to Horowitz, the classification needs to be thoroughly examined since it has implications on human rights and democracy, as well as on international and policy matters.

Horowitz said that the coalition of which he is a member has agreed to "disagree on the territories [the West Bank], but that the situation there cannot be made worse." He added that he will hold a meeting with the defense minister in the upcoming days. Horowitz, who is the head of Meretz Party, expressed concern over a deterioration on the ground, especially regarding the security establishment's inaction against violence by young settlers.  

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg also told Kan public broadcaster, also said her party will demand clarifications about Gantz's decision. According to her, at least three of those NGOs are "established and well-known… I find it hard to believe that they are involved in terrorism."

U.S. criticism swells

Meanwhile, Democratic members of Congress and liberal Jewish organizations roundly condemned the Friday's Defense Ministry decision.

Many of the lawmakers directly implored the Biden administration to pressure Israel to repeal the move, one day after the State Department issued a rare public rebuke over the decision over the lack of communication with the U.S. government. 

Rep. Betty McCollum noted her lengthy history working with Defense for Children International – Palestine, one of the NGOs in question that monitors the killings of children and the wellbeing of arrested children in Israel, in her condemnation of Israel's move. "This is nothing more than an attempt to silence supporters of Palestinian rights. It is anti-democratic, and contrary to the values expected of a U.S. ally," McCollum said.

Several other representatives have joined McCollum's outcry, including Reps. Mark Pocan, Chuy Garcia, and Ilhan Omar, who called Israel's move "a textbook way to evade accountability for human rights violations—and an affront to everyone who cares about peace."  

Rep. Rashida Tlaib described Israel's move as "grossly antidemocratic and dangerous."

Rep. Alan Lowenthal described the crackdown on dissenting voices "counterproductive and unacceptable,"  while Rep. Andre Carson noted Israel's decision was "based on false characterizations, and will harm countless people who depend on these organizations for lifesaving support." 

Leading liberal Jewish organizations joined House Democrats in their criticisms. J Street called on Biden to make clear to Israel that this "deeply repressive measure" is "totally unacceptable and anti-democratic" while Americans for Peace Now called the move "deeply troubling." 

T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights also slammed the move, saying "the work of human rights groups ensures that no government can violate k’vod habriot, basic human dignity, without fear of accountability." New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch called the "repressive declaration a cause for concern for anyone who cares about the future of Israeli democracy and Palestinian rights."

The swift condemnations come after the U.S. abandoned its usual rhetorical pattern of calling for both sides to refrain from steps that exacerbate tensions, directly acknowledging that the Israeli government failed to provide advance warning. "We would refer you to the Government of Israel for an explanation of their rationale for making these designations," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

State Rep. Ilhan Omar called th Israeli move "an affront to everyone who cares about peace"Credit: Jim Mone/AP

The six groups are Addameer, Al-Haq, Bisan Center, Defense for Children International Palestine, The Union of Palestinian Women's Committees, and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.

According to a statement issued by Israel's Defense Ministry, the re-classification of these groups stems from fraudulent use of funds. "These group have received large sums of money from European countries and international organizations while using fraud and deception methods," the statement said. 

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