Clampdown on Palestinian civil society organisations aims to hide Israeli abuses

Israeli forces raiding the offices of children’s rights NGO DCI-P in July 2021 – image: DCI-P website

Bernard Regan analyses what lies behind the Israeli government’s recent attack on Palestinian organisations.

On Friday 22 October Benny Gantz the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence  signed an order declaring six Palestinian NGOs (Non- Governmental Organisations) as terror organisations.

The six organisations are Addameer, Al-Haq, the Bisan Center, Defence for Children International Palestine (DCI-P), the Union of Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work committees.

All of these NGOs are well established groups working within Palestinian civil society, independent from the Palestinian Authority, and respected internationally for their work.

DCI-P for example is known for its work supporting Palestinian child prisoners who have been arrested and brought before Israeli Military Courts in the West Bank especially. Two delegations of lawyers, one in 2012 from Britain led by Baroness Scotland and one in 2013 from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), have investigated the circumstance in which Palestinian children are arrested and detained.  

Both delegations made around 40 recommendations critical of the behaviour of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and their treatment of minors. They established that the IDF were in the habit of arresting young Palestinians in the middle of the night, throwing them into military vehicles, physically abusing them, keeping them in solitary confinement and then trying to force them to confess to a range of crimes or face detention and imprisonment. A not infrequent allegation against them might be that they had been throwing stones at the Wall.  They try to force the youngsters to sign confessions written in Hebrew, a language they neither speak nor read.  Parents often accept plea bargains to keep their children out of prison or reduce their potential sentences but the child’s name is then of course in the Israeli records.

DCI-P data visualisation on child prisoners in Palestine

Despite the British lawyers trying to follow up their report by meeting Israeli government officials responsible for the army and the operation of the military courts they have been denied access.  As a result nothing of any significance has changed in the behaviour of the IDF towards the children.

As an NGO, DCI-P has been increasingly gaining a hearing amongst a wide range of concerned individuals and humanitarian organisations.  Whilst no changes of any great significance have taken place in the practices of the Israeli occupation forces, DCI-P has continued to give support to the children arrested and their families in what is a traumatic scenario.

The other organisations listed have similarly been active in their respective welfare fields within civil society, trying to use whatever legal and humanitarian resources are open to them to give support to individuals, families, social groups and local communities faced with the daily inhuman consequences of an occupation which remains brutal and aggressive. At the same time, house demolitions, settler attacks, evictions like Sheikh Jarrah, and daily assaults take place.  All of this is backed by the Israeli government.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has spoken in favour of the annexation of the whole of the West Bank into Israel and has been in discussions to double the Israeli Jewish population in the Jordan Valley.  In the last two weeks the government has announced the building an additional 1,300 housing units in the West Bank.  Despite ousting Netanyahu from the premiership Bennett’s government is taking exactly the same path as his predecessor.

The attack on the Palestinian NGOs is clearly intended to try to discredit bodies who are gaining an international audience and political sympathy.  Some years ago the IDF began to describe Palestinian civil society actions of groups like DCI-P, as “non-violent terrorism”.  

The reality however is somewhat different.  On 3 March this year, Fatou Bensouda, announced that the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court will begin an investigation into the situation in Palestine covering the period from 13th June 2014 until the present day.  The decision to begin the investigations followed five years of examination of the evidence.  Any prosecution may well include evidence from the May 2021 IDF attack on Gaza which, according to Human Rights Watch, included an attack by 4,360 unguided and mortars towards the civilian population of the strip. This attack was yet another following previous attacks in 2008, 2012, 2014, 2018 and 2019 which Human Rights Watch has monitored. In their report on the events of 2021 they make the point that there was no evidence that the IDF attack focussed on any paramilitary target.  An attack that is not directed at a specific military objective, they state, is unlawful.  

The offensive against the six NGOs is a deliberate attempt to discredit organisations which have been challenging Israeli governments’ anti-Palestinian policies.  Increasing numbers of international NGOs such as War on Want (WOW) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have expressed the view that the Israeli government’s anti-Palestinian policies constitute the crime against humanity of apartheid.  In their report “A Threshold Crossed”, HRW found that Israeli authorities have pursued an intent to privilege Jewish Israelis at the expense of Palestinians. As they said in their press release, “Today, apartheid is not a hypothetical or future scenario. A 54-year-occupation is not temporary. The threshold has been crossed. Apartheid, and parallel persecution, is the reality for millions of Palestinians. Recognizing and correctly diagnosing a problem is the first step to solving it and ending apartheid is vital to the future of both Palestinians and Israelis and the cause of peace.”

The attack on the 6 Palestinian NGOs is an attempt to deflect from the growing criticism of Israeli government actions.  The evidence however cannot be hidden. It is the government of Israel which is in the dock.

Bernard Regan has been active in the trade union movement for many years and served on the National Executive of the National Union of Teachers for 25 years. He is the author of “The Balfour Declaration: Empire the Mandate and Resistance in Palestine” (Verso)

What you can do:

  • Pass a resolution in your trade union branch condemning the attack on the Palestininan NGOs
  • Send a message of protest to the Israeli embassy in your country

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