Using Black Ops Against Palestinian NGOs

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Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki (left) at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.Credit: AFP

He introduces himself as Abu Nabil, but Arabic is not his mother tongue. Hounding people and threatening them with murder is his business. It may be assumed that he gets a salary for this. He works with a team, armed with advanced technology for surveilling and locating people.

On February 25, Abu Nabil phoned Sweden, to the home of the family of Nada Kiswanson, a Palestinian attorney with dual Jordanian-Swedish citizenship, and warned the family that if Kiswanson did not leave her place of employment, they would never see her again.

Kiswanson, 31, lives in Holland with her husband and their little girl. As an employee of the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq, she is its permanent liaison with the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Two weeks before the threatening phone call, Kiswanson and a staffer with the human rights group Al Mezan, headquartered in Gaza, submitted a voluminous report to the court about Black Friday in Rafah on August 1, 2014. The report is among the documents given for preliminary examination to the court, which is to decide whether to investigate the possibility that war crimes were committed during Operation Protective Edge.

A few days after the phone call to the family, a woman phoned Kiswanson, saying she worked for the Dutch Health Ministry, and asked Kiswanson to take part in a survey about the Zika virus. The warning lights did not flash yet. Kiswanson gave her address, and then Abu Nabil called the land line in her home. He told her he was from the Palestinian intelligence service and that her life, and the life of Al-Haqs director Shawan Jabarin, were in danger. An investigation revealed that no such Zika virus survey was being conducted.

The phone calls and threats continued, sometimes at night. Kiswanson changed her phone number, had it unlisted and started using her husbands phone. But the moment she called her colleagues in Ramallah, her phone number was identified. Her address on the secure-communication app Single was also identified, and threats and warnings were sent there as well. Her computer was hacked and shut down. A bouquet of flowers arrived at her home with a card signed by Abu Nabil. The bouquet was sent from Amsterdam. Police found that someone had tried seven times to pay for it over the internet using a credit card from Luxembourg. The attempts failed, and the buyer showed up in the flower shop. Security cameras did not spot him.

A leaflet was distributed to mailboxes in her neighborhood with the name Al-Haq, asking for donations of various items for refugees in Holland. The address given was her home, and the goods piled up outside her door. Neighbors were furious. On August 10, her colleague from Al Mezan, who was in Europe, received an email with six photos of his home in Europe, containing threats to murder him and his family.

The murder threats overshadowed another assault on the employees of Al Mezan, Al-Haq and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, the three Palestinian organizations working to bring Israel before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Their emails were hacked, and since February they have received a flood of messages that sought to cause trouble between them and their directors, and spread false rumors and made bogus offers of work in Europe with refugees. Anonymous phone calls were also made to institutions abroad that donate to the three Palestinian organizations, asking them to stop their support due to supposed corruption.

Prosecutor Simon Minks of the district public prosecutors office in The Hague is leading the investigation into the threats against Kiswanson. According to the Dutch newspaper NRC, which first broke the story, Minks specializes in international crimes such as war crimes and terror. The investigators preliminary conclusion is that private individuals are not the ones behind the harassment. The Palestinian organizations conclude that the threats are proof that the public and legal actions they are taking to bring Israel before the court in The Hague are worrying those who should be worried.

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