On Thursday, October 28, several prominent trade unions in the United Kingdom issued a joint statement condemning the recent decision of the Israeli government to designate six Palestinian human rights organizations as ‘terrorist groups’. The unions called upon the UK government to “publicly oppose this draconian measure” and demand that Israel reverse its decision in accordance with international law. The unions which signed onto the statement include TUC, ASLEF, BFAWU, NEU, PCS, RMT, TSSA, UCU, UNISON and Unite the Union. They also urged the broader international community to “challenge this repressive move”.
As per the unions’ statement, “this attack is a brazen attempt to further restrict Palestinian rights and to silence and punish Palestinian human rights defenders already working against incredible odds. We note that the six organizations targeted are amongst those most effectively documenting Israel’s systematic violations of Palestinian rights, including the building of illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land, attacks on Palestinians’ right to food sovereignty, and the illegal arrest and detention of Palestinians, including children. These organizations have made their voices heard internationally, including in the International Criminal Court and in UN forums, and they are undoubtedly targeted for that reason. Smearing, attacking, and banning the most vocal proponents for accountability and justice is a classic move for repressive regimes. It is a threat to the Palestinian people and to human rights defenders everywhere.”
The statement reiterated that international and Israeli human rights groups have recently equated aspects of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories with crimes of apartheid, referring to the apartheid regime in South Africa built upon segregation and discrimination based on racial and ethnic lines. The unions added that “the international legal definition of apartheid specifies that it includes the ‘persecution of organizations and persons, by depriving them of fundamental rights and freedoms, because they oppose apartheid.’ This blanket designation and banning of some of Palestine’s most vocal human rights and civil society organizations should be seen in this context.”
Additionally, the unions stress that “this move is an attempt to cut off international solidarity by isolating Palestinians and delegitimizing their crucial work. As trade unionists and campaigners for justice, we know all too well how repression and silencing works, and we also know how to stand up against it: by redoubling our commitment to stand with the Palestinian people, and in particular, the courageous human rights defenders criminalized for calling for freedom, justice, and equality.”
Israel had last week announced the decision to label six Palestinian human rights groups as “terrorist organizations” alleging that they had links with the banned leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The PFLP is labeled as a “terrorist group” and banned by Israel, as well as by some western countries. The controversial Israeli decision led to global outrage and alarm, with human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem and the United Nations Human Rights Office condemning the decision and expressing concern that it will adversely affect legitimate human rights and humanitarian work.
This week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, also issued a strongly worded statement saying that “claiming rights before a UN or other international body is not an act of terrorism, advocating for the rights of women in the occupied Palestinian territory is not terrorism, and providing legal aid to detained Palestinians is not terrorism.” She added that “the organizations… face far-reaching consequences as a result of this arbitrary decision, as do the people who fund them and work with them. The crucial work they perform for thousands of Palestinians risks being halted or severely restricted.” Importantly, she also remarked that no evidence has been presented to support the allegations against the six groups, nor have those allegations been established by proper legal procedures.