LONDON: The Council of Arab-British Understanding has condemned Israel’s “vicious” crackdown on Palestinian NGOs and urged the UK government to act in support of Palestinian civil society.
Last week Israel listed and banned six Palestinian NGOs, including the Defense for Children Palestine and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, accusing them of links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
“Israel has yet to provide any evidence to substantiate its claims,” said CAABU. “The Israeli listing and banning of these organisations is based on confidential reports. If there was evidence against any specific Palestinians working in these groups, Israeli forces would have no doubt arrested them.
“The UK government should pledge and demonstrate concrete support for Palestinian civil society in a vicious scenario of shrinking space in which they operate. They suffer from sustained and systemic attacks from Israeli authorities. Such a move is designed to silence those who speak out against illegal Israeli policies. ”
CAABU has worked closely with many of the banned organizations, including introducing some to British parliamentarians.
They “remain an essential and important resource to our political advocacy work as they are to governments and parliamentarians from across Europe,” the group said.
CAABU director Chris Doyle told Arab News that these actions were resonant of “tyrannical regimes using counter-terrorism legislation as a cover to stop criticisms of their actions. It’s the sort of thing one would expect from the likes of the Syrian regime, for example.”
He said the onus was on the Israeli government to demonstrate “immediately and in full that there is substantive evidence (to support the crackdown).”
Civil society, he added, viewed the latest attack on NGOs as “another part of a continuing Israeli attempt to crackdown on civil society, to shrink the space for holding them to account — all of which we’ve seen before.”
Raiding offices, freezing accounts and “using satellite organizations to smear their reputations” was something that had been happening for decades.
“One can go back to the first intifada when Palestinian universities were closed down, where Palestinian schools were closed down, to actions against specific individual NGOs that also weren’t substantiated. Most recently there was a case of so-called pro-Israel groups that had been spreading unsubstantiated accusations about Palestinian textbooks. We have seen this time and time again.”
Many international NGOs and charities, as well as human rights organizations, have also strongly condemned Israel’s attacks on Palestinian charities and NGOs.
In a rare joint statement, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch — two of the most prominent human rights advocacy organizations in the world — condemned the bans.
“This appalling and unjust decision is an attack by the Israeli government on the international human rights movement,” they said. “For decades, Israeli authorities have systematically sought to muzzle human rights monitoring and punish those who criticize its repressive rule over Palestinians. While staff members of our organizations have faced deportation and travel bans, Palestinian human rights defenders have always borne the brunt of the repression.
“This decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations.”
Echoing calls by CAABU for greater British involvement in the defense of Palestinian rights, they called on the international community to challenge Israel over its actions.
“The decades-long failure of the international community to challenge grave Israeli human rights abuses and impose meaningful consequences for them has emboldened Israeli authorities to act in this brazen manner.”
Doyle said: “The extremely strong unified reaction from civil society, and 22 Israeli civil society organizations, demonstrates that they simply attach no credibility to the Israeli claims about these organizations."