IDF court findings undermine gov’t campaign against NGOs

On November 10, the same IDF court, in a plea bargain, convicted Juana Rashmawi of financing terrorism, which also included an NIS 50,000 fine.

The IDF's fuel base in Nesher (photo credit: NESHER SPOKESPERSON)
The IDF's fuel base in Nesher
(photo credit: NESHER SPOKESPERSON)

The Judea Military Court sentenced a Spanish-Palestinian human rights activist to 13 months in prison, but also undermined the government’s campaign against six Palestinian NGOs.

Following the ruling on Wednesday, the activist’s lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, sent a letter to Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday asking them to clarify the record publicly, so that his client is not unduly prosecuted overseas, including in Spain.

“The false allegations expose my client to criminal proceedings in her home country Spain and in other countries that are parties to the joint effort against terrorist organizations,” Feldman wrote.

Neither Gantz nor Lapid nor the separate spokespersons for their ministries responded.

The same IDF court, in a plea bargain, convicted Juana Rashmawi on November 10 of financing terrorism, which also included a NIS 50,000 fine.

 DEFENSE MINISTER Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar at the opening of the winter session at the Knesset, November 8, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) DEFENSE MINISTER Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar at the opening of the winter session at the Knesset, November 8, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The conviction and its timing appeared not to be random, as the Defense and Foreign ministries unleashed a simultaneous campaign to present the case as evidence that the recent declaration by the Defense Ministry that six Palestinian human rights groups are terrorist groups was justified.

Much of the world has expressed skepticism that the six Palestinian NGOs all double as fronts for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist group.

Many have said that the US Commerce Department call for the Israeli cyber firm NSO Group be blacklisted was a partial pushback against the Israeli declarations.

The US and many European Union countries have said or implied that Israel attacking the human rights NGOs was at least partially politically motivated and an improper use of legal tools.

The Israeli government’s argument on November 10 was that Rashmawi, who worked for the Union of Health Work Committees (UHWC), had confessed to exactly the same kind of dual mission – human rights and terrorism-financing conduct – that it has accused the other six NGOs of committing.

However, the IDF court clarified that the indictment, conviction and sentencing decisions were split into two parts.

One part Rashmawi confessed to: that she was unaware that her actions led to humanitarian funds being transferred to the PFLP, and that she had undertaken improper financial actions that facilitated it.

The second part – the broader factual context that prosecutors generally provide to the court before getting into specific accusations – Rashmawi did not admit to.

This second part was the section where the IDF prosecution sought to link her activities to broader allegations against the PFLP using several human rights NGOs to help it launder terrorist funds.

The IDF court said this second part did not apply to Rashmawi, and that it had not been proved that she knew she was facilitating terrorist funding, or that there was a connection between her and proving terrorist funding by the other six NGOs.

Feldman said that Gantz and Lapid should thus clarify to Spain and other overseas authorities that Rashmawi was not linked to broader issues.

Feldman also criticized Gantz and Lapid for what he said was an attempt to use Rashmawi’s case to support broader allegations against the other six NGOs that they could not prove.

Lapid said last week that “the admission of guilt [by Juana Rashmawi] is further proof that a cynical and murderous terrorist organization has set up a network of lies and fraud that operates under the guise of humanitarian organizations as a conduit for the inflow of terrorist funds, deliberately misleading donors, organizations and countries.”

Gantz said that “the conviction demonstrates that the PFLP operates a network of ‘humanitarian’ organizations in order to raise funds that are funneled to terrorist activities.”

Both ministries continued saying that the UHWC organization where Rashmawi worked “has been serving as a civilian arm of the PFLP, much like the Union of Agriculture Work Committees, the Bisan Center, Al-Haq, DCIP and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.”

It was known that Rashmawi’s organization had been declared a terrorist entity in 2015, and was not one of the six organizations banned last month for terrorist ties. However, a Foreign Ministry source called the case “a big piece of the puzzle” regarding the NGOs.

The rank and file of the IDF prosecution and of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) continue to back the declaration of the six NGOs as terrorist groups.

Moreover, prosecutors sometimes cut plea bargains to save time and resources even if they believe they could have proved graver charges.

Feldman argued that without a deal, he might have even beaten the charges to which Rashmawi confessed.

It is possible that this latest hole in the campaign against the groups in dispute will feed further doubt by the US and the EU of other related charges.

This could be especially true where the allegations might be based on rough interrogations of Palestinian detainees, methods that are disdained even by many Israeli allies.

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.