Israeli forces raid offices of Palestinian civil society organizations 

On the morning of August 18, occupation forces raided the offices of seven leading Palestinian civil society groups, six of which had been declared “terrorist organizations” and banned by the Israeli government in 2021

August 18, 2022 by Tanupriya Singh
Israel targets Palestinian organizations
Israeli forces break into Defense for Children International-Palestine’s office in Al-Bireh. (Source: DCIP)

In a further escalation of Israel’s ongoing campaign of repression, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) ransacked and shut down the offices of seven leading Palestinian civil society and human rights organizations in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, August 18. 

The early morning raids targeted Al Haq, prisoner advocacy group Addameer, Bisan Center for Human Rights, Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), and Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC). The six organizations have been under constant threat ever since Israel designated them as “terrorist” organizations in 2021. The seventh target was the Union of Health Work Committees, which Israel declared “unlawful” in 2020, and whose offices it shut down in 2021. 

Following Thursday morning’s raids, the organizations issued statements detailing how the IOF had broken down the doors of their offices, confiscated materials, welded and sealed their doors shut with iron sheets, and left behind a military order. Addameer stated that the notice declared the organization “forcibly closed” on account of “security in the region and to combat the infrastructure of terrorism”. 

The UAWC also shared footage of the raid and stated that the IOF had destroyed office equipment and seized materials from its offices. The IOF similarly seized equipment from the offices of the UPWC and loaded them onto a truck to be taken away. 

DCI-P also shared photos of the raid. It stated that client files were confiscated and their office sealed and ordered closed. The IOF confirmed the raids on Thursday, stating that it had shut down seven organizations. 

In October 2021, the Israeli Ministry of Defense had declared the six groups as “terrorist organizations” under its anti-terrorism laws, citing their alleged ties to the banned, left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Over the following months, Israel failed to present any evidence to substantiate these claims despite repeated demands.

The targeted organizations were carrying out the critical work of documenting the Israeli occupation’s ongoing war crimes in Palestine, and had been collaborating with ongoing investigations into Israel’s actions, including in the probe by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Israel’s actions have been widely condemned by rights groups as well as UN experts who warned of Israel’s “apparent misuse of anti-terrorism legislation to attack some of the leading civil society organizations in Palestine.”

Dwindling credibility, increasing repression 

In November 2021, The Intercept, +972 Magazine, and Local Call published an investigation into a classified dossier prepared by Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet to justify the actions against the six organizations. The investigation affirmed that there was no proof behind Israel’s claims. 

The document in question had been sent to European diplomats in May, following which, the European Union suspended funding to Al Haq and the Palestinain Center for Human Rights. Finally, in June 2022, the EU announced that it would resume funding. This was after a review by the European Anti-Fraud Office found “no suspicions of irregularities and/or fraud.”

Early in July, nine European countries – Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden – also declared that they would resume working with the six organizations. A joint statement noted that Israel had provided “no substantial information” that would justify reviewing their existing policies. 

Even as the credibility of its claims dwindled quickly abroad, Israel refused to relent. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz stated on August 17 that the organizations were operating “under the guise of performing humanitarian activities to further the goals of the PFLP terrorist organization, to strengthen the organization and to recruit operatives.”

The Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, another major Palestinian advocacy organization, reported on Thursday that the raids had taken places just hours after the Israeli Military Commander for the Occupied Palestinian Territory rejected an application filed by the organizations.

Back in February, five out of the six groups had filed a procedural objection against their declaration as “unlawful associations” under the 1945 Emergency (Defense) Regulations. The designations were made after the groups were declared as “terrorist organizations”. The objection demanded a complete cancellation of the decision, given Israel’s repeated refusal to turn over the supposed “evidence” against the organizations. 

Meanwhile, Israel also stepped up its repressive tactics. Last month, the Defense Ministry sent a letter to the lawyers representing the six organizations, claiming that their work could be considered a violation of Israel’s domestic anti-terror laws. 

It added that the lawyers were required to receive permission from the ministries of defense and finance in order to collect fees from the organizations (for representing them in court), or face up to seven years in prison. The letter was sent two days prior to a hearing on an appeal filed by Al-Haq and DCI-P. At the time, Michael Sfard, the lawyer representing Al Haq, stated that “it is very difficult to not interpret it as a threat from the government.”

Sfard also condemned Thursday’s raids as an attempt to thwart the ICC investigation, in which Defense Minister Gantz could apparently be a suspect himself. 

Meanwhile, in a welcome show of solidarity, Al Haq announced that members of the public had pried open the doors to its offices which had been sealed by the IOF earlier that day. “We assure you, Israel’s arbitrary and unlawful actions will not silence us.” the organization declared.