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Israel-Palestine war: Israel shut down NGO for reporting rape of teenager, ex-US official says

NGO Defense for Children International's offices were raided after they reported the sexual assault of a 15-year-old by an interrogator while in Israeli custody
Former US State Department official Josh Paul resigned over sales of arms to Israel in October (Social media)

Israeli authorities banned a Palestinian NGO after it reported the rape of a Palestinian child by Israeli forces to the US State Department in 2021, former official Josh Paul said in a CNN interview on Monday.

Paul, who resigned in October in protest over arms sales to Israel, said in an interview with Christiane Amanpour that Israeli forces had raided Defense for Children International- Palestine’s offices and designated it a terrorist organisation.

That followed a complaint made by the US State Department about the rape of a 15-year-old Palestinian boy in Al-Mascobiyya detention centre in West Jerusalem.

“[They] removed their computers and declared them a terrorist entity,” Paul said.

The DCIP is the only Palestinian human rights organisation specifically focused on children's rights.

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In February 2021, the DCIP published a report documenting the physical and sexual assault against a 15-year-old Palestinian boy by an Israeli interrogator at Al-Mascobiyya interrogation and detention facility in January that year. 

The DCIP reported that the detainee had been raped with an object by his interrogator and that he was made to stand against a wall where his interrogator inflicted severe pain on his genitals.

“There are no words to describe that moment,” the detainee said in the report.

A campaign of repression

According to Ayed Abu Eqtaish, accountability programme director at DCIP, the NGO reported the assault to US officials following hundreds of unresolved complaints filed with the Israeli authorities.

“We used to submit complaints [to the Israeli authorities],” Eqtaish told MEE. “but they would not open investigations…or they would open investigations and close them under the pretext that there was no cooperation from the child or lawyer.”

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According to Eqtaish, the DCIP stopped filing complaints with the Israeli authorities as they would not allow a child giving witness statements to be accompanied by a lawyer.

“So we passed the information to US officials and asked for clarification from the Israeli authorities,” Eqtaish told MEE.

“[Israel wanted to] paralyse the organisation and prevent us from revealing Israeli human rights violations against Palestinian children'

- Ayed Abu Eqtaish, DCIP

Following the complaint, DCIP offices were raided twice by Israeli forces, on 19 July 2021, and again on 18 August 2022, when their offices were raided and "sealed off" along with the offices of seven other Palestinian NGOs, in what Amnesty International condemned as a “campaign of repression against Palestinian civil society”.

But according to Eqtaish, the DCIP had not made the connection between the complaint they had filed with the State Department and the subsequent raids until Paul’s comments on Monday, although Eqtaish added that Paul's interpretation was “logical”.

“The organisation had already been under attack [by the Israeli authorities] for several years before the raids," Eqtaish told MEE, adding: “[They wanted to] paralyse the organisation and prevent us from revealing Israeli human rights violations against Palestinian children.”

An atmosphere of uncertainty

In October 2021, the DCIP was designated a terrorist organisation by Israeli authorities along with five other Palestinian NGOs.

The move was condemned by the UN human rights commissioner as a “frontal attack on the Palestinian human rights movement and on human rights everywhere".

In the immediate aftermath of the designation, Eqtaish said that, among the DCIP staff, the “whole atmosphere was surrounded with uncertainty…we didn’t know exactly when they would attack us again and what the type of attack would be,” he said.

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Following the designation, NGO staff were inundated with queries from anxious donors.

“Instead of concentrating on our work, we had to respond to these questions,” Eqtaish told MEE. “The designation was threatening our existence as an organisation.”

Despite this, DCIP retained all but one of its donors.

“The main purpose of the designation was to dismantle our organisation, but we continue our work,” Eqtaish said.

Since the Second Intifada, in 2000, when DCIP began tracking Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military, Israeli forces have detained, interrogated, prosecuted and imprisoned approximately 13,000 Palestinian children.

Each year, the Israeli military detains between 500 and 700 Palestinian children.

Between 2016 and 2022, DCIP collected sworn affidavits from 766 Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military and prosecuted in Israeli military courts to track their experiences of ill-treatment and torture at the hands of Israeli forces.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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