RAMALLAH: Israel defied condemnation by the UN and the EU on Thursday by raiding and closing down seven Palestinian rights groups in the West Bank.
Security forces stormed the groups’ offices in Ramallah and seized files, computers and other equipment before sealing off entrances and declaring them permanently closed.
The seven groups are the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association; Al-Haq; Bisan Center for Research and Development; Defense for Children International — Palestine; Health Work Committees; the Union of Agricultural Work Committees; and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.
Israel has designated six of the groups as terrorist, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday repeated discredited claims that they had raised funds for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which it views as a terrorist organization.
The UN called for the terrorist designations to be revoked. “Despite offers to do so, Israeli authorities have not presented to the UN any credible evidence to justify these declarations,” the UN Human Rights Office said. “As such, the closures appear totally arbitrary.”
Nine EU countries have said they will continue working with the Palestinian groups because Israel has produced no evidence to support its accusations. “Past allegations of misuse of EU funds in relation to certain Palestinian civil society organizations have not been substantiated,” EU diplomacy chief Josep Borrell’s spokeswoman Nabila Massrali said on Thursday. “The EU will continue to stand by international law and support civil society organizations.”
After the raids, staff from Al-Haq removed the metal sheet covering their office door and vowed to get back to work. “We were established here not by Israel, not by their decision, and we will continue our work,” director Shawan Jabarin said.
Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh visited the group’s office and pledged his support. “This is not only an NGO, but this is also a state of Palestine institution — therefore as long as they work within the law, we will stand solid with them,” he said.
Analysts speculated that Israel had attacked the groups because they were becoming increasingly effective at exposing Israel’s repression of Palestinian people. “I think Israel wants to restrict the activities of the Palestinian human rights institutions that worked to submit files to the International Criminal Court and were able to change world opinion of Palestinian human rights issues,” rights expert Majed Al-Arouri told Arab News.