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Israeli forces raid offices of Palestinian civil society groups in West Bank

Soldiers broke down office doors and confiscated material at previously targeted organisations, including Al-Haq and Addameer
Israeli soldiers inside the offices of Defense for Children International-Palestine after raiding it in the occupied West Bank city of al-Bireh on 18 August 2022 (Facebook/DCIPalestine)
By Shatha Hammad in Ramallah, Occupied Palestine

Israeli forces closed the offices of seven Palestinian civil society rights groups in the occupied West Bank in an overnight raid on Thursday.

Al-Haq said Israeli soldiers stormed its offices in Ramallah, confiscating items, shutting down the main entrance with an iron plate, and leaving behind a military order declaring the organisation unlawful.

Other groups raided included Addameer, the Bisan Center for Research & Development, Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCIP), the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work Committee and the Union of Health Workers Committees (UHWC). 

'Israel does not want anyone to hold it accountable for its crimes, and to be brought to trial, and this is what bothers it and motivates it to take this action against the institution'

- Tahkeem Alyan, Al-Haq

Addameer said soldiers had also broke down its office doors and confiscated material.

In October, Israel declared six of the groups (excluding the UHWC) as terrorist organisations.

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The declaration, which accused the groups of militant links, was met with criticism from both the United Nations and human rights organisations.

Al-Haq, which was established in 1979, focuses on documenting human rights violations by Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Tahkeem Alyan, director of programmes at Al-Haq, told MEE on Thursday that the army’s raid and seizure of important materials was "expected in light of the continuous Israeli incitement against Palestinian institutions, which aims to demonize them and cut off communication with the world".

Alyan said Al-Haq has long been targeted by Israeli authorities, but that attacks against it had escalated after the organisation started to send reports of Israel's actions to the International Criminal Court.

"Israel does not want anyone to hold it accountable for its crimes, and to be brought to trial, and this is what bothers it and motivates it to take this action against the institution," he said.

He added that branding Al-Haq as a terrorist organisation was the easiest measure the army could take against the group, because it lacked any evidence to prove that the organisation had committed any illegal actions. 

"Al-Haq has reopened its doors, and we will continue to work in it, and we will not succumb to this decision," said Alyan.

'No evidence' 

The military confirmed in a statement that soldiers "closed seven institutions and confiscated property" in the overnight raids.

They came after Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz announced on Wednesday that the terror designation of three of the groups had passed into law. The other three, which had challenged their terror designations, had their appeals rejected, a statement from Gantz's office said. 

Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which represented the six groups with private attorneys, said no explanation was given to the groups. 

"The raid on the offices of the six organizations was carried out only a few hours after the Israeli Military Commander rejected the objection filed by the groups against their declaration as “unlawful associations”, without giving any answer to the fact that these organizations were and are not given any opportunity to defend themselves against the secret evidence that the Israeli security forces allegedly hold against them," Adalah Attorneys Dr Hassan Jabareen, Adi Mansour and Rabea Agbariah, together with private attorneys Michael Sfard and Jawad Boulos, said. 

"Israel continues to persecute Palestinian human rights and civil society groups with the clear aim of silencing any criticism against it. The effort is led by a Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, suspected of committing war crimes, in an attempt to terrorize those who will testify against him and his actions."

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh paid a visit to Al-Haq in the aftermath of the raid in which he expressed support to the rights groups and reiterated the legality of their work. 

“This institution and all the others are registered with the State of Palestine, and therefore are legal institutions that operate within the law,” he said, calling on the groups to resume their work despite their closure by the Israeli army.

European support

The groups deny Israel's claims and in a joint statement last month nine European countries said they would continue working with them because Israel had failed to prove the allegation that they were terrorist organisations.

The foreign ministries of Belgium; Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden said they had not received "substantial information" from Israel that would justify reviewing their policy.

"Should evidence be made available to the contrary, we would act accordingly," they said. "In the absence of such evidence, we will continue our cooperation and strong support for the civil society in the OPT (occupied Palestinian territories).

"A free and strong civil society is indispensable for promoting democratic values and for the two-state solution.”

Defense for Children International-Palestine was established in 1990 with the aim of providing legal services to children before Israeli military courts. 

After 10 years of its work, it turned to documenting violations against Palestinian children by Israeli forces, especially detainees.

Ayed Abu Qutaish, the director of the accountability programme at the organisation, told MEE on Thursday that the goal of closing the group and the other Palestinian organisations "was to silence them and prevent them from continuing to document the violations of the Israeli occupation against Palestinians, and communicating them to the world".

Abu Qutaish added that the army was branding the groups as terrorist organisations and demonising them in front of the world in order to separate them from the international solidarity and support the groups receive.

'False accusations'

In a statement on Thursday, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said it stood in "solidarity with the Palestinian civil society organisations raided this morning by the Israeli army".

"The false accusations against them have been rejected by the European Union, the United States and other states," the statement continued.

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"We will continue to work with our colleagues in the Palestinian NGOs to dismantle the apartheid regime. 

"This regime considers violent repression a legitimate tool to control Palestinians, yet defines non-violent civil activity as terrorism."

Last month, Israel's defence ministry said lawyers working for the the six organisations would need to receive official permission from the finance and defence ministers to represent them or face a prison sentence of up to seven years. 

In April, United Nations human rights experts urged the international community to resume funding for the Palestinian civil society groups. 

"We call on the funding governments and international organisations to swiftly conclude that Israel has not established its allegations and to announce that they will continue to financially and politically support these organisations and the communities and groups they serve," the groups - which included J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, and T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, among others - said in a statement at the time.

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