Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Amid Addameer raid, NGOs are facing an increase in Israeli harassment

By Yehudit Tzfat - October 21, 2019
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Human rights]

In the early hours of 19 September, Israeli Defense Forces stormed the Ramallah office of Addameer, a prominent not-for-profit advocating for prisoner support and rights. The Israeli army seized thousands of dollars of equipment including “five laptops, memory cards, three laptop memories, one laptop card [and] several books.” The Israeli forces also rummaged through the office’s belongings and left a note listing the expropriated items. 

This was the third time Israeli forces raided Addameer’s office, the first being in 2002 and then again in 2012 when they smashed the door and stole computers they have yet to return. 

Addameer’s legal unit coordinator, Ayman Nasser, has been detained without charge since last year. His administrative detention was renewed for another four months in September. 

Addameer was not available in time for comment. 

The “chilling raid” was met with condemnation from the human rights community, but more notably the raid reopened the conversation on the systematic targeting of human rights organisations in Palestine-Israel. 

“We work on an international level to expose the crimes of the Israeli occupation to the international community,” said Helmi Al-Araj, Executive Director of Hurryyat, a Palestinian human rights organisation. “The occupation doesn’t like that.”

After the raid, the Palestinian Human Rights Organisations Council met to discuss the continuous targeting on Palestinian civil society. All of the organisations present at the meeting noted an increase in targeting and harassment on human rights defenders to obstruct their work. 

Israeli forces also stormed the headquarters of the Union of Women's Committees in Hebron on 24 September, stealing computers, a camera and tampering with files. And the army raided the headquarters of the General Directorate of Health Work Committees in Al-Bireh on 11 October. There, soldiers smashed the doors and locks, damaged desks and threw files on the ground.

The recent escalation of attacks doesn’t just include raids but takes a variety of forms such as arbitrary administrative detentions, travel bans, defamation, smear campaigns, and de-funding attempts. 

And international NGOs working in the region are not immune to harassment from Israel. In January, Amnesty International released a report calling for digital tourism companies to cease operations in Israeli settlements. Four Israeli ministers slammed Amnesty International publicly over the report. 

“You can do a report in the U.S. or Europe, and you’re not going to get four ministers [to] call the organisation anti-Semitic or dissuade their work when it’s an organisation like Amnesty International,” an Amnesty International staff member said. “It just shows that the rhetoric and the narrative of human rights here isn’t friendly to the authorities and they’re willing to do many things in order to silence it.”

One of the ways targeting of human rights organisations manifests is online. Shawan Jabarin, director of Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights organisation and other staff members experienced incitement amounting to death threats on Facebook from the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy. In response, Al-Haq submitted documentation to the UN Special Procedures on the smear campaign in August. 

Currently, the UN Special Rapporteur for the human rights situation in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, is monitoring a reply from the Israeli government regarding these allegations. Yet Lynk admits that Israel does not have a good track record when it comes to responding. 

“They do not recognise my mandate,” Lynk said. “They generally do not communicate with me with respect to visiting the Occupied Palestinian Territories or with respect to statements or letters I write to them, so we are in the process of assessing what we are going to do next with the materials that I have received from Al-Haq.”

“You would think that any liberal democracy that was heeding what its international and local obligations are would be working with, not against, human rights organisations,” Lynk said. “They would be attempting to try to work out and have a constructive dialogue even if they disagreed with what human rights organisations are saying, doing or advocating.”

Suha Jarrar, Environmental and Gender Policy Researcher at Al-Haq, said that Israel’s ongoing smear campaign of civil society organisations is intended to stop international bodies from funding them. 

Jarrar mentioned two recent reports from the Israeli government — Terrorists in Suits and The Money Trail — that directly linked NGOs like Al-Haq and Addameer to terrorist organisations. 

“The information that they have in these reports are basically trying to tie individuals to terrorist organisations and claiming that these organisations are employing terrorists,” Jarrar said. 

Jarrar noted these reports cite past arrests of current NGO staff members. But she stressed that board members and managers were part of a politicised climate. 

 “Activism was the predominant environment amongst students so a lot of people in that generation were at some point political detainees,” Jarrar said. 

Additionally, Jarrar said that not-for-profit organisations purporting to be independent recycle information from the Israeli government. 

“NGO Monitor and UN Watch claim to be independent NGOs that are trying to ensure there is some kind of accountability and transparency when it comes to the work of human rights organisations, when in reality the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, NGO Monitor and UN Watch are presenting the same narrative and using the same information,” Jarrar said.

Hurryyat’s Al-Araj, who was imprisoned for his affiliation with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said a staff member’s political ideology is separate from the organization’s work. 

“We as individuals have our own affiliations to political parties but not as an organisation,” Al-Araj said. “The Israelis see it differently.”

In light of the continuous attacks, Jarrar and other human rights defenders are mounting pressure on the international community to hold Israel accountable. 

“Our strategy is to also push funders and countries to challenge Israel for claiming that these countries are funding terrorist get the funders themselves to say this is defamation,” Jarrar said. “Countries should be reminded all the time that they have responsibilities under international law.”

Although the situation looks grim, Jarrar believes it is important to not lose hope. 

“Witnessing the many, many intense attempts to shut us down means that Israel does fear that our actions are going to yield results.”

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