National Lawyers Guild joins in the global outrage over the decision of the Israeli Defense Ministry to designate vital Palestinian civil society organizations as “terrorist” and urges the U.S. State Department to immediately voice U.S rejection of these designations.

On October 19, 2021, the Israeli Defense Ministry issued a military order declaring six Palestinian civil society organizations “terrorist organizations.” The groups named are: Al Haq; Addameer; Defense For Children International-Palestine; Bisan; the Union of Agricultural Work Committees; and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees. The decision is an appalling and dangerous development in Israel’s attacks on Palestinian civil society and the larger human rights movement.

This follows on the same designation made of the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network in February 2021, followed by the listing of three other Palestinian community and legal organizations, mostly active in Europe, in August 2021. In all cases, the activities being targeted are research, advocacy, documentation and community support work for Palestinians living under occupation or as refugees.

The designation, made pursuant to a 2016 Israeli statute, effectively outlaws the activities of these civil society groups. It authorizes Israeli authorities to close their offices, seize their assets and arrest and jail their staff members, and it prohibits funding or even publicly expressing support for their activities.

These designations are a blatant attempt to criminalize Palestinian civil society overall. Organizations like Addameer and DCI Palestine provide direct legal support and assistance to Palestinians detained by Israeli occupation forces, including children, and document human rights violations. Both are also involved in important legal work in the United Nations,  International Criminal Court, and other international institutions.

Similarly, Al-Haq has produced decades of human rights legal advocacy and scholarship that have played a critical role in defending and protecting the rights of the most vulnerable Palestinians. The Union of Agricultural Work Committees, winner of the UN’s Equator Prize, supports Palestinian farmers whose land is targeted for confiscation, while the Bisan Centre produces research based on human rights principles. The Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees organizes Palestinian women to advocate for equality, justice and an end to occupation.

All of these organizations are a vital part of Palestinian civil society, conducting their work publicly as they have for many years, in some cases decades. Many NLG members have worked with them on research and advocacy projects and have been hosted by them on delegations to the occupied Palestinian territories.  Israel’s sudden designation of them as “terrorist” is a blatant and transparent attempt to undermine Palestinian human rights advocacy and documentation.

While the State Department has stated that it was unaware of these designations prior to them being made, this is an insufficient response to their gravity. The Biden administration has declared that support for human rights will guide its international policy. If the Biden administration claims to be sincere, this is an opportunity to demonstrate that.

Moreover, the United States provides Israel with $3.8 billion in military aid every year as well as an additional $1 billion recently approved for the so-called “Iron Dome” system. Therefore, the United States shares responsibility for Israeli government actions targeting the Palestinian people.

We urge the State Department to immediately denounce these designations and call for them to be rescinded, as well as all similar designations targeting Palestinian advocacy, international solidarity and public activism. We further express our deep concern that such designations may be used ito extend this criminalization outside the borders of Palestine, where it could affect organizations in the United States that collaborate with and/or support these Palestinian civil society organizations.

Therefore, we urge the State Department to reject these “terrorist” designations imposed by Israel, which clearly are intended to serve a political function as well as unlawfully undermining the civil and human rights of the occupied Palestinian population. The State Department must use its considerable influence with the Israeli government to urge it to rescind these designations, which are a clear attempt to criminalize Palestinian civil society in general and to interfere with the affected groups’ ability to defend Palestinian human rights.

We join our colleagues in demanding that the Biden administration:

  1. Issue a public statement that rejects the Israeli government’s false accusations levied against Palestinian civil society organizations;

  2. Publicly condemn and rebuke Israel for this authoritarian action, and call on Israeli authorities to immediately reverse their decision and end all efforts aimed at delegitimizing and criminalizing Palestinian human rights defenders;

  3. Support Palestinians seeking the protection and promotion of fundamental human rights, justice and accountability, including at the International Criminal Court.

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