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Here’s what’s wrong with Israel branding human-rights groups ‘terrorists’

On October 22, Israel branded six respected Palestinian human-rights groups “terrorist organisations,” outraging the UN and the wider global community. This, coming from a state that imprisons and kills Palestinian children, and murders uniformed medics. 

On the Israeli Defense Ministry’s list were Addameer, Al-Haq, Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP), the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), the Bisan Center for Research and Development, and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees. 

The groups either document Israel’s crimes against Palestinians, which, in my opinion, routinely amount to terrorism themselves, provide legal support to targeted or imprisoned Palestinians, or work to empower Palestinian civilians. In what bizarre world can they be deemed “terrorist groups”? 

A joint statement by leading Israeli rights group B’Tselem and numerous other Israeli and Palestinian rights organisations described the ministry’s action as “a draconian measure that criminalises critical human-rights work,” and noted the importance of documentation, advocacy, and legal aid for the protection of rights worldwide. “Criminalising such work is an act of cowardice, characteristic of repressive authoritarian regimes,” it said.

A number of UN special rapporteurs have condemned the decision as “a frontal attack on the Palestinian human-rights movement and on human rights everywhere.”

Meanwhile, Israel continues to attack unarmed protesters with rubber bullets, live ammunition and tear gas; approve new buildings in illegal Jewish colonies on Palestinian land; and bulldoze centuries-old Palestinian graves in Old Jerusalem; and Israeli colonists continue to brutalise Palestinian civilians, as they have long done. And, of course, Gaza remains under a cruel blockade – the longest lockdown in the world. The roughly two million Gazans barely living in the territory are deprived of the most basic essentials, including urgently needed medical supplies, and Israel guns down and abducts their fishermen, often destroying their boats.

But, no, according to the state responsible for these and countless other acts of terrorism, the “terrorists” are the human-rights groups. This is the state that not only abuses and murders Palestinian civilians, and flattens entire neighbourhoods of Gaza, deliberately destroying vital infrastructure, but also occupies Lebanese and Syrian land, violates Lebanese airspace, and routinely illegally bombs Syria.

This is not the first time Israel has harassed Palestinian (and Israeli) rights organizations.

The children’s agency, DCIP, is “an independent, local Palestinian child-rights organisation dedicated to defending and promoting the rights of children living in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.” In July 2021, prior to its “terrorist” designation, its main office was raided by Israeli forces.

At the time, DCIP described the raid as “the latest act by Israeli authorities to increasingly push forward a campaign to delegitimise and criminalise Palestinian civil society and human rights organisations.” They also noted this was a campaign that has been on the rise in recent years, “advanced by a network of rising nationalist Israeli civil society organisations and associated organisations elsewhere, with the support of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

With the minister of defence designating such groups as “terrorists” and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs supporting the delegitimization campaign, it is not credible to argue the persecution is not coming from the Israeli government itself.

For one of the other listed groups, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), Israel’s targeted harassment caused the Dutch government to cease funding. Israel’s 972 magazine reported on this, saying “for years, a global network of Israel advocacy groups had been lobbying European governments to cut off funding to UAWC, a group that assists Palestinian farmers to cultivate and remain on their land, market their produce, and develop water infrastructure.” 

Some of the work UAWC had done in recent years, the article noted, included establishing “52 cooperatives in the West Bank and Gaza, [and] rehabilitating almost 10,000 dunums of Palestinian land that were under threat of confiscation by Israeli authorities in Area C.” 

It also planted nearly two million trees, and developed connecting routes amounting to almost 700km in distance. “UAWC also worked to provide better water access to Palestinians in Area C, where water and sanitation services are regularly interrupted by Israeli settlement expansion,” the article also said.

My experiences in Gaza, volunteering for years with impoverished Palestinian farmers and farm labourers coming under Israeli live fire on a near-daily basis, demonstrated to me that the work of groups like UWAC is essential to help farmers rehabilitate destroyed farmland. These are people simply trying to eke out an existence, being maimed and murdered by Israeli fire while doing so, their farmland and wells bulldozed and destroyed, their crops burned.

I also have some experience with the work of DCIP, which documents Palestinian child detainees in Israeli prisons, including children in solitary confinement, as well as children killed by Israeli soldiers or colonists. Without groups like this documenting these crimes, advocating for the children becomes all the more impossible. Clearly, this is one of the reasons Israel has made the outrageous terrorist designation.

But DCIP also helps sick and injured Palestinian children get medical care. The group helped rehabilitate a terribly injured, bedridden, 16-year-old Palestinian teen I met in a Cairo hospital in July 2008, months after an Israeli soldier shot him in the spine.

In March 2008, Abdul Rahman Abu Oida went to the roof of his home, checking the water tank to see why the family suddenly had no water, and was shot in the spine by an Israeli sniper hiding on another rooftop.

As I later wrote, “The bullet destroyed three vertebrae; the shot left Abed paralysed in a puddle of his own blood until his 13-year-old brother, 15 minutes later, found him and dragged him downstairs. Ambulances were prevented from accessing the area. Abed lay untreated for three hours before he reached a hospital in Gaza City.”

In the Cairo hospital where I met him, he was emaciated, with appallingly large bedsores on his backside and feet. These festering bedsores would be the cause of other ailments which plagued him and eventually caused his death. Through a contact at DCIP, Abed began to get proper treatment for his original wound and the consequences of the bedsores.

Although he survived the 2008/9 Israeli massacre, including Israel’s attack on the rehabilitation hospital in which he and 60 other patients were, in 2014 he finally passed away. But without DCIP’s intervention, Abed would surely have died not long after I met him in 2008.

I have written many times about the crimes Israel has perpetrated against Palestinians in Gaza, including sniping at medics and killing and maiming still other medics, including with dart bombs – both war crimes – as well as assassinating children and infants, and firing white phosphorus on civilian areas. These are all just from my personal documentation in the span of a few years.

Without people to document these crimes, Israel’s actions could be even more monstrous than they already are.

Last May, in an attempt to prevent journalists from reporting its war crimes, Israel precision-bombed key media buildings in Gaza (which it had previously done in 2009, 2012, and 2014).

Throughout occupied Palestine, the work of human rights groups in documenting Israel’s crimes remains imperative, and the country’s continued harassment of these groups – including their “terrorist” designation – indicates the effectiveness of their advocacy and the determination of Israel to whitewash its crimes.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

© 2021, paradox. All rights reserved.

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