Palestinian rights groups defy Israeli threats, reopen offices, resume work

Shawan Jabarin, director of the al-Haq human rights group, at the organization's offices in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP)
Shawan Jabarin, director of the al-Haq human rights group, at the organization's offices in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP)
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Updated 26 August 2022

Palestinian rights groups defy Israeli threats, reopen offices, resume work

Shawan Jabarin, director of the al-Haq human rights group, at the organization's offices in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP)
  • EU urged to take stance that includes imposing economic, political and diplomatic sanctions against Israel

RAMALLAH: The directors of seven Palestinian civil rights institutions shut down by an Israeli army decision on Aug. 18 have decided to reopen their establishments and carry out their activities as usual.

Arab News spoke to Shawan Jabarin, director of Al-Haq — the most prominent Palestinian human rights organization — which the Israeli army shut down over what it called allegations of financing terrorism.

“We are continuing our work from our offices, not to challenge or claim heroism, but because we believe that we are defending human rights and we will not respond to aggressor and arrogance occupation decisions that design its laws against us as he wishes,” Jabarin told Arab News.

Al-Haq has 45 employees.

Jabarin said that Israel legislated laws in a way that suited its interests and security measures.

He called on the Palestinian Authority to take political steps against the Israeli military decision, which significantly diminished its prestige.


Al-Haq and the other Palestinian rights groups have received full backing from the EU, which said it would continue to fund them unless Israel provided credible evidence of links to terrorism.

Jabarin praised the positive global solidarity with the closed institutions. The support, however, has been insufficient to reverse the Israeli decision, he said.

A few days after the Israeli armed forces’ shutdown of the seven civil rights organizations, a Shin Bet officer summoned Jabarin for interrogation at the office of Israeli armed forces’ base near Ramallah.

Jabarin rejected the request. The Shin Bet office then threatened that he might pay a high personal price if he resumed operations of Al-Haq, he said.

“Our institutions are working because we realize that working in the field of human rights is not a picnic but a great challenge,” Jabarin said. “We will continue to cooperate with the ICC and document the crimes of the Israeli war criminals.”

“We demand the European Union take a serious stance that includes imposing economic, political and diplomatic sanctions on Israel.”

Jabarin called for practical steps against Israel, adding that the time for statements and denunciations was over.

He said that the decision to close the institutions came after remarks by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Berlin.

Abbas referred to the massacres committed by Israel against the Palestinians from 1947 to the present day, and likened Israel’s massacres of Palestinians to the Holocaust. This provoked unprecedented anger in Israel against him.

Jabarin said that Israel believed that the timing of its move came at a moment when the EU would be ashamed to defend these Palestinian institutions after the president’s statement.

The focus of these institutions’ efforts on the Israeli army’s killing of Palestinian children in Gaza provoked great anger among the Israeli military and political establishment, with the Israeli elections also on the way, he said.

Jabarin believes that the current government has an interest in showing a willingness to attack the Palestinians with all its ferocity and strength in targeting the seven civil society rights organizations, closing them down by a military decision.

Jabarin said that he saw the decision as a message to the nine EU countries that signed a statement on July 12.

In the statement, the EU said that it stood behind Palestinian civil society organizations and would continue to support them, and that it did not accept the Israeli narrative about these institutions, which accused them of supporting terrorism.

The nine European countries declared on July 12 that they wanted to continue “cooperating” with six Palestinian civil society institutions that the Israeli occupation authorities had claimed in October 2021 as terrorist organizations, as Israel had failed to provide sufficient proof of their involvement in terror finance.

On Aug. 17, the Israel defense forces military commander rejected an objection by five Palestinian non-governmental organizations against their proscriptions as “unlawful organizations.”

That same day, the Israeli defense minister announced that the terrorist designation of three of these organizations, issued in October 2021 under the Israeli Counter-Terrorism law, had been made permanent.

Three other organizations have appealed their designations.

On Aug. 18, Israeli forces ordered the closure of the offices of seven organizations — including all six NGOs designated as terrorist organizations in November 2021 — and searched their offices in Ramallah.

Equipment was confiscated, in some cases destroyed, and confidential files were seized.

Israeli authorities also summoned the directors of three of these organizations for questioning.

Tor Wennesland, UN special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said in his briefing to the UN Security Council on the situation in the Middle East on Aug. 25: “I reiterate the secretary-general’s concern about the shrinking space for civil society in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

The organizations shut down were: Al-Haq Human Rights establishment, A-Damir for Prisoners Care and Human Rights, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the International Movement for Defense of Children-Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, the Union of Health Work Committees and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.

The systematic Israeli targeting of those seven Palestinian civil society institutions began in October 2021.

The Israeli army classified them as “terrorists” under the pretext of “financing the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine” with the aim of silencing them and preventing them from exposing human rights violations against the Palestinian people by draining their financial resources.

Meanwhile, Palestinian senior human rights experts believe that 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 about Palestinian human rights issues.

They added that Israel discovered that the Palestinians were able to communicate their views to the outside world and change the global discourse from a pro-Israel political discourse to a human rights discourse in solidarity with Palestinian rights.

Consequently, Israel felt that the Palestinian human rights movement was capable and successful in that field and must be subject to some restrictions.  

According to Palestinian human rights experts, Israel tried to stop the moral discourse of these institutions by accusing them of financing terrorism and being terrorist institutions.

Israel told European parties who contacted it about those organizations that it would not cancel the decision as it considered these organizations to be terrorists. At the same time, Israel said that it would not take any action or escalate steps against the six Palestinian institutions, but did, the human rights experts said.