Five Palestinian NGOs to IDF: Reverse terror declaration

This request by five Palestinian NGOs marks the first formal legal move within the Israeli legal system to overturn to terror designation.

 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. (photo 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.
(photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)

Five Palestinian NGOs, with support from a group of Israeli human rights NGOs, requested that the IDF legal adviser for the West Bank reverse a declaration made in October that they were “unlawful associations.”

Though these groups have struggled against the declaration in the diplomatic and public relations arenas for several months, Thursday’s action was the first formal legal move within the Israeli system to overturn it.

The five groups are Addameer, Al-Haq, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International – Palestine, and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.

A sixth group that was listed in the October declaration, the Union of Agricultural Workers’ Committee, is not part of the latest legal effort. The other five NGOs said it had been “declared unlawful prior to these designations, and is not a part of this particular process.”

Removing the sixth NGO seemed to be a strategic maneuver as well, since much of the alleged evidence against the other five could be traced to it.

 IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Ofer Winter and Israeli army officers inspect the area where two officers Maj. Ofek Aharon and Maj. Itamar Elharar from the Egoz commando unit were killed in a friendly fire accident outside a base in the Jordan Valley on January 13, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Ofer Winter and Israeli army officers inspect the area where two officers Maj. Ofek Aharon and Maj. Itamar Elharar from the Egoz commando unit were killed in a friendly fire accident outside a base in the Jordan Valley on January 13, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

As part of the request filed by Adalah as well as top human rights lawyers Michael Sfard and Jawad Boulus, the groups said that an outside body must hear their request to reverse the declaration.

They also attacked IDF legal adviser Col. Asem Hamid for offering them to review only some of the evidence against them.

In a January 2 letter, Hamid’s department said that much of the evidence against the groups was based on classified intelligence and could not be produced.

The groups said that this made it impossible for them to have a fair appeal, though IDF regulations mandated that they have the right to appeal.

They said that the open-source evidence provided was in the realm of rumor and hearsay, and would never hold up in a standard criminal court proceeding.

There was also an argument that the declaration violated Israel’s own terrorism laws, which were changed in 2016, as it was not accompanied by a legal declaration by Defense Minister Benny Gantz (though he issued a public relations announcement at the time in support of the move.)

Besides some of these more technical legal arguments, the groups cited a list of countries that Israel has said it provided aspects of the classified intelligence, and which remained unconvinced that the declaration was just.

The countries included Sweden, Ireland, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and multiple EU officials.

More broadly, the groups said that declaring them illegal and essentially terror groups was harming Palestinian national rights and the ability to cope with a variety of negative repercussions of being under “Israeli occupation.”

The request referred to the declarations “as an attack on Palestinian society as a whole, and as an attempt to criminalize Palestinian civil society.”

The NGOs’ objections include “a detailed account of the organizations’ activities and the beneficiaries receiving their services, and underscores the long history of the organizations – several of which have been operating for decades – as well as the centrality of these groups in the life of Palestinian society, which is suffering from prolonged occupation. Given these facts, Israel’s actions cannot be interpreted as anything other than a politically motivated attack on Palestinian human rights defenders and an attempt to destroy Palestinian civil society.”

ISRAEL’S EVIDENCE that has been made public can be divided into general attribution against a specific group, and specific attribution against a member of one of the groups, which is then attributed to the whole group.

According to the Defense Ministry, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) investigated the organizations between March and May, and found that they raised and laundered money, forged documents to assist the PFLP, recruited activists to join the group, and witnessed several meetings of senior group members, including individuals convicted of terrorism, at the offices belonging to the six NGOs.

“These organizations that belong to the Popular Front are connected to each other and constitute the lifeblood of the organization, economically and organizationally,” the source said.

None of this is an allegation that anyone in these groups has committed any act of violence. Rather, the ministry has said that they are part of the PFLP’s broader ecosystem of fundraising, recruiting and logistical support.

Until 2016, such accusations could have led to some limited charges, but Israel then passed a broad anti-terror law to help combat the “Knife Intifada” and evolving trends in terrorist groups’ fundraising tactics.

Probably the weakest legal charge, but one which has a powerful moral hold on Israelis and some global observers, is the allegation that these groups have been diverting donations to stipends for the families of deceased Palestinian terrorists, as well as the promotion of terrorism and violent ideologies.

One of the few specific allegations that were made public is that Samir Arbid, Razak Praj and Ataraf Rimawi are all PFLP operatives on trial for murdering 17-year-old Rina Schnerb in August 2019, and that they are connected to at least two of the six groups.

Regarding terrorist financing, the statement noted the Shin Bet’s arrest of four Palestinians in May for diverting European humanitarian aid through NGOs to the PFLP.

But declaring six NGOs – some of which have decades-long relationships with the UN, the global human rights community and Western countries – was perceived globally as a radical move, with even the US pushing back.

If the NGOs do not succeed in their initial request, they could seek to appeal either to the IDF West Bank Courts or even to the High Court of Justice.