An IDF West Bank court on Wednesday convicted Spanish-Palestinian human rights activist Juana Rashmawi of financing terrorism in a plea bargain expected to seek a jail sentence of 13 months.
Her sentencing hearing, in which the sides will also seek a fine of NIS 50,000, is set for November 17.
The conviction and its timing appeared not to be random as the Defense and Foreign Ministries unleashed a campaign simultaneously to present it as evidence that the recent declaration of six other Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist groups was justified.
To date, much of the world has been skeptical about the recent Defense Ministry declaration that six Palestinian NGOs all double as fronts for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist group.
Many have even said that the US Commerce Department declaration of Israeli cyber offensive firm NSO Group to be blacklisted was a partial push back against the Israeli declarations.
The United States and many European Union countries have said or implied that Israel’s going after some of the human rights NGOs was at least partially politically motivated and an improper use of legal tools.
Essentially, the Israeli government’s argument on Wednesday was that Rashmawi, who worked for the Union of Health Work Committees (UHWC), had confessed to exactly the same kind of dual hat – human rights and terrorism-financing conduct – that it has accused the other six NGOs of.
Rashmawi was arrested on April 13, and it appears that she was either being interrogated or was negotiating a plea deal since then.
It was unclear if a mere 13 month sentence on a low-grade terrorism-financing charges for a different NGO would be sufficient to completely alter the US and EU’s negative response to Israel’s handling of the other six NGOs to date – despite the clear thematic similarities tying the groups to the PFLP.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said, “The entire international community must work together with Israel to prevent terrorist organizations from operating in civilian frameworks and to prevent funds from reaching terrorist organizations.”
Lapid added, “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.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz stated, “We will continue to respect human rights and the activities of human rights organizations. [At the same time] we will continue to operate against terrorism in all its forms, anywhere it takes place.
“The conviction demonstrates that the PFLP operates a network of ‘humanitarian’ organizations in order to raise funds that are funneled to terrorist activities,” added Gantz.
“The cynical use of human rights organizations as a cover, is a double sin,” Gantz said. “It fuels terror, and also hurts organizations that do real, important work for civil society.”
Both ministries continued that the UHWC organization “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.”
“The defendant dealt extensively with fundraising for the PFLP. Donors, including countries around the world and international organizations, were systematically misled to fund a terrorist organization. The organization’s activities were a significant and important source of funding for the PFLP,” said the statement.
The indictment states that “the terrorist organizations purposefully conducted their operations under the guise of civilian activities that would serve as a cover for their training, fundraising and other terror activities.”
US and UN Ambassador Gilan Erdan said, “The UN, its agencies, and all member states must do everything in their power to prevent and combat the shameful trend of terrorist financing. Israel values the work of Palestinian civil society organizations and their importance to the Palestinian people.
“However, we cannot and will not allow the financing of terrorism under the pretense of humanitarian and civilian aid. Israel will always defend its citizens, no matter what the rest of the world may say. I wonder what excuse the UN agencies will now find to continue supporting terror organizations disguised as humanitarian ones,” he added.
Last month, Israel banned six Palestinian NGOs for their ties to the PFLP, and has faced criticism from the US and European allies who alleged Israel was not providing enough evidence for the designation.
Although the organization in this case was declared a terrorist entity in 2015 and is not one of the six organizations banned for terrorist ties last month, a Foreign Ministry source called the case “a big piece of the puzzle” regarding the NGOs.
“The PFLP operated a civil society network to raise money for terror. [Rashmawi] was not involved in terror attacks, but she knew she was raising money for terrorism and admitted it,” the source stated. “This admission sheds light on how these civil society organizations behave, and how they are inseparable from the PFLP.”
The source argued that the materials in the case “show beyond all doubt that there is fraudulent fundraising for terror.”
Even if these organizations have other activities, they are still part of a terrorist group, he added.
“You can’t say one branch of a terrorist organization is legitimate and the other isn’t,” he stated. “The international community has to recognize the facts and fight this way of raising money for terror.”
Israeli left-wing NGO B'Tselem attacked the Israeli government following the indictment, saying Foreign Minister Lapid and Defense Minister Gantt are "trying to spin and tie" Rashmawi's indictment to the six Palestinian NGOs.
"This link is meant to justify their disgraceful decision to shut down human rights organizations and silence criticism of Israeli policies."
"Now, with boundless cynicism, they speak in praise of human rights while trampling them every hour of every day."