Israel to justify its closure of 7 Palestinian NGO offices to US

Washington contacted Israeli officials for more information after security forces raided the offices of seven groups in the West Bank, the State Department said.

 US State Department spokesman Ned Price holds a press briefing on Afghanistan at the State Department in Washington, U.S., August 16, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/POOL)
US State Department spokesman Ned Price holds a press briefing on Afghanistan at the State Department in Washington, U.S., August 16, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/POOL)

Israel promised to give Washington information justifying the IDF raid early Thursday morning on the offices of seven Palestinian non-governmental organizations it designated as terror organizations, after senior US officials expressed their concern about the army's actions.

"There must be a very high bar to take action against civil society organizations," US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington, adding that Israel says the information it has meets that standard.

"We have reached out to the Israeli government, including at senior levels," he said.

Officials from the US Embassy in Jerusalem and from Washington asked Israel "for more information regarding the basis for those closures," Price said.

The US is "concerned" by the closures and "will continue to seek additional information and to convey our concern directly and privately to our Israeli partners," he said. "Our Israeli partners in turn have assured us that more information will be forthcoming regarding the basis for their actions."

 The logo of the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq is seen in its offices in Ramallah, in the West Bank, on November 8, 2021. (credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS) The logo of the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq is seen in its offices in Ramallah, in the West Bank, on November 8, 2021. (credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)

"We have made clear... that independent civil society organizations in the West Bank and Israel must be able to continue their important work," Price said, adding that a review of the information Israel has provided to the US on these organizations has not caused the Biden administration to change their designation.

The US has neither funded these seven NGOs nor declared them to be terror organizations.

Price clarified that the US designated the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in 1997. Israel has claimed that these seven NGOs have funneled aid to the PFLP and are affiliated with it.

"We have not seen anything that has caused us to change our approach to or our position on these organizations," Price said.

The United Nations and the European Union have harshly criticized Israel for its actions against the NGOs, ever since Israel designated six of them as terrorist organizations in October.

Those six were:  Al-Haq, Addameer, the Bisan Center, the Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees. In January 2020 Israel had also designated the Union of Health Work Committees as a terror group for its affiliation with the PLFP.

The EU and UN condemned the closures, saying that there was no credible evidence to support the Israeli accusations.

EU Representative Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff led a delegation of diplomats to Ramallah to pay a solidarity visit.

"The EU will continue to stand by international law and support [civil society organizations] that have a role to play in promoting international law, human rights and democratic values," his office tweeted after the visit.

Regional UN agencies said that "Israeli Forces broke into, searched and sealed the offices of seven Palestinian human rights and humanitarian organizations in Ramallah in Area A" of the West Bank, which is under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority. 

"Their property was confiscated and destroyed and military orders closing the offices were left at the premises," they stated.

Israel has not provided the UN with "compelling evidence" to support its terror designation for these NGOs, the international body said.

"We urge the government of Israel to refrain from any action that would prevent these organizations from continuing their critical human rights, humanitarian and development work," the agencies said.

Nine European Union countries have said they will continue working with the groups, citing a lack of evidence for the Israeli accusation. 

Reuters contributed to this report.