On Friday, Oct. 22, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced that the state of Israel will now designate six Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organizations. He claimed that all six groups have links to the leftist militant group known as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights quickly released a statement calling the designation a “frontal attack on the Palestinian human rights movement” and claiming that “[s]ilencing [these organizations’] voices is not what a democracy adhering to well-accepted human rights and humanitarian standards would do.” The Israel-based human rights organization B’Tselem described the designation as a “draconian measure that criminalizes critical human rights work,” and said that “[c]riminalizing such work is an act of cowardice, characteristic of repressive authoritarian regimes.”
Members of the targeted human rights groups have described how this announcement is not the first time their organizations have been targeted by the Israeli government. Shawan Jabarin, the director of one targeted group known as al-Haq, claimed that the Israeli Foreign Ministry has pressured foreign diplomats to lobby against his organization in the past. Ubai Aboudi, who leads the Bisan Center for Research and Development, explained how he has previously been persecuted by the state of Israel for what he claims are erroneous and unsubstantiated charges of PFLP affiliation.
The new terrorist designation now gives Israeli officials full power under the 2016 Antiterrorism Law to shut down all operations of each targeted group — allowing them to raid each organization’s offices, seize their property, arrest their leaders and directors, and criminalize their funding and forms of expression. Section 24(a)(1) of the law even gives Israel the power to jail anyone who expresses public support for the targeted groups for up to three years.
This is not the first time Israel has exerted force to quell the operations of human rights groups and union rights groups in Palestine, specifically targeting the offices of the prisoner rights group Addameer, as well as the headquarters of the General Union of Service Sector Workers. In the past few years alone, the Israeli government has successfully deported Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine Director of Human Rights Watch, and prevented a campaigner from Amnesty International from traveling freely across Palestine. They have waged an aggressive campaign to eliminate and suppress the operations of activist groups, lawyers, organizers, and journalists who have criticized and highlighted the atrocities committed by the Israeli government.
Each human rights group targeted by this most recent announcement has received support from numerous other international rights groups as recognition of their work highlighting the human rights abuses committed in Palestine. Al-Haq, the oldest of the targeted groups, has been involved in human rights activism in the region since 1979. Jabarin, their director, has received multiple international human rights awards, such as the French Republic’s Human Rights Award and the 2008 Reebok Human Rights Award.
Another targeted group, Defense for Children’s International - Palestine, has played a prominent role in documenting the violence carried out against Palestinian children by Israeli forces. A third targeted group, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, has worked to improve living conditions concerning water and food and protect Palestinian land from settlement in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, receiving renowned awards like the Food Sovereignty Prize and the UN Equator Prize for their efforts.
In addition to the international recognition and support for these organizations from such bodies as the UN, 304 U.S.-based activist and human rights organizations have signed a statement urging U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to formally condemn this action of the Israeli government. In the letter they state that the targeted organizations represent “part of the bedrock of Palestinian civil society” and that criminalizing them is a “dangerous, well-worn tactic of authoritarian regimes and a shameful political maneuver to undermine the vital work of these organizations.”
The work of these human rights groups in highlighting the abuses committed against the Palestinian people is valiant, and Israel’s suppression of such valiance is cowardly. Dismantling these groups and criminalizing their operations is yet another step taken by Israeli officials intended to suppress international scrutiny into their ongoing crimes in Palestine. It is a cowardly and authoritarian step that will inevitably lead to further harm and violence against the Palestinian people.
Each of us in the Princeton community has an obligation to condemn this authoritarian action taken by the Israeli government and recommit ourselves to advocating for the protection of Palestinian human rights. As one of the leading institutions of higher education in the world, we can no longer bury our heads in the sand when it comes to defending the basic human right to free speech. Whether it requires taking a class on the topic or attending an event on campus, now is the time to speak up for Palestine. In the words of Jabarin, “[t]hey may be able to close us down. They can seize our funding. They can arrest us. But they cannot stop our firm and unshakable belief that this occupation must be held accountable for its crimes.”
Eric Periman is a junior studying in the School of Public & International Affairs and can be reached at email@example.com.