Eight months have passed since the government outlawed six civil society organizations in the West Bank as terrorist organizations. That should have been enough time for Israel to provide evidence to justify Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s extreme measure – one befitting a military dictatorship, not a democracy. But during this period, diplomats say, Israel did not present European states sufficient evidence to prove that these organizations channeled funds to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, as Israel claimed – an accusation the organizations deny.
“We were given evidence, and we did not find it to be compelling enough,” one diplomat said. Another said that officials in most of the states believe the evidence submitted by Israel “does not meet the required threshold of proof of the transfer of funds.” Belgium’s minister of development cooperation said in May that the government in Brussels had examined the issue and found no evidence to confirm Israel’s claims about organizations that Belgium supports. Denmark said in December that it had not received evidence to support Israel’s claims. In the absence of sufficient proof, in April United Nations experts called for the resumption of payments to the organization that had been suspended due to Israel’s allegations. Moreover, the European Commission’s Anti-Fraud Office, OLAF, is not expected to open an investigation into the organizations after its initial inquiry.
The organizations that were classified as terrorist organizations are Addameer, which provides legal aid to Palestinian prisoners, collects data about administrative detainees and opposes torture; Al-Haq, which documents violations of Palestinians’ human rights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; Defense for Children International-Palestine, which monitors the killing of children and the situation of children who have been arrested; the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, which helps Palestinian farmers; the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees; and the Bisan Center for Research & Development. All are long-standing, serious human rights organizations that are known internationally. Outlawing them was an escalation in Israel’s battle against opponents of the occupation, a battle that requires destroying the distinction between legitimate struggle and the violent kind. It is disgusting that this measure was enacted by the government of change, allegedly a government that has promised to protect democracy.
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The minimum that could be expected from Israel after such an aberrant move is to give the organizations in question the core evidence for the declaration. Israel has not done this, on the ground that the decision was based on classified intelligence. The lack of transparency leaves no choice but to conclude that this is political persecution and an attempt to silence opponents of the occupation. Instead of Israel entrenching itself in its position and doing further damage, it would be better for Gantz to immediately remove these groups from the list of terrorist organizations.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.