Israel declared six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorist organizations Tuesday, claiming that they are operating under the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Among these newfound terrorist organizations are three of Palestine’s most prominent human rights organizations – the prisoner rights and legal defense group Addameer, Defense for Children International-Palestine and Al-Haq, undoubtedly the single most important Palestinian human rights organization.
Absurdly, the order designating Al-Haq a terrorist organization says that “its public activity … is in human rights advocacy, but in fact, it is involved in advancing measures against Israel in the international arena on behalf of the [PFLP].”
Another brand-new terrorist organization is the Bisan Center for Research & Development, which the order accuses of “disseminating ostensibly academic material in order to advance the goals of the [PFLP].”
As is so often the case in colonial regimes, one of the cornerstones of Israeli rule over the Palestinians is crushing civil society. This tactic has been central to the Israeli government’s policy since its establishment. It was first used against Palestinian citizens in 1948, in the territory often referred to as Israel proper.
For years, Israel subjected these citizens to military rule and, as is still the case today, treated them as second-class citizens and security threats. Then, with even greater vigor, Israeli authorities used this tactic against the Palestinian subjects under its rule in the territories it occupied in 1967, where every political or semipolitical organization is, de facto, forbidden.
Israel’s attempts to control Palestinians’ political discourse and subdue their struggle are forever illegitimate. Yet this new assault on Palestinian civil society may be unprecedented in both its magnitude and its goals, without even the slightest attempt to disguise it.
The “war on terror” guise often used to cover Israel’s actions was so transparent in this decree that it’s hard to believe that the bureaucrats who drafted it were able to do so without exploding in laughter.
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If Israel is allowed to close Al-Haq, by far the most prestigious Palestinian organization, no other Palestinian rights group will ever be able to publish a report without the threat of being designated a terrorist organization hanging over its head.
The designation of the six groups – merely the latest additions to Israel’s already endless list of terrorist organizations – was based on Israel’s draconian Counterterrorism Law of 2016. Article 24(a) imposes up to three years in prison on anyone who “commits an act of identification with a terrorist organization, including by publishing words of praise, support or sympathy.”
Addameer defends Palestinian captives in Israel’s military tribunals, and has defended many of my close friends time and again. Its activities deserve only praise.
Defense of Children supports minors who are trampled under the boots of Israel’s military dictatorship in the West Bank – those who arrested in predawn military raids, subjected to cruel interrogation techniques and tried before military tribunals. Any decent person would recognize that the organization’s goals and actions are important and right.
Al-Haq indeed works to advance, as the order says, measures to target Israel on the international stage, demanding accountability and justice for Palestinians, as well as the restoration of their basic rights. The fundamental necessity and value of its work is so obvious that it should be something that can be taken for granted.
Neither three nor 30 years of imprisonment can change that, and no draconian law can turn reality upside down. In the face of the Orwellian newspeak which calls these groups terrorist organizations, this is the clear, simple truth that we must all speak.
This is a decisive moment, especially for Israeli human rights organizations. It demands an end to the facade of normality in Israel. We, too, must no longer play by the rules. If these decrees do in fact come into force, then anyone who chooses to carry on with business as usual is simply covering up Israeli apartheid.
Against, the effective annihilation of Palestinian civil society and its organizations, their Israeli counterparts, such as B’Tselem and Yesh Din, are left with only one genuine, honest choice: They must turn off the lights, close up shop in protest and present things as they really are: Israel is not a liberal democracy that enables the thriving existence of civil society, but rather an apartheid regime upholding a racially discriminatory militarily dictatorship.
Jonathan Pollak is an activist in the Palestinian popular struggle and chief digital designer at Haaretz.