World community should do more than rejecting Israel’s baseless terrorist accusation against Palestinian NGOs
By Ghassan Michel Rubeiz
Israel continues to invent methods to silence voices of justice, using the “law of the land” as a pretext. A policy of discouraging Palestinian civil society is bound to encourage alternative methods of resistance: possibly a third Intifada.
For how long can Israel sustain artificial peace -with the wider Arab world- while extending illegal settlement building on Palestinian land?
On October 21 defense minister Benny Gantz stunned the world community by casually declaring six Palestinian human rights and social service agencies to be “terrorist organizations”. The alleged crime was “contact” with a “terrorist organization”, namely, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The PFPL is a political party which advocates for the establishment of a single secular state for Arabs and Jews.
The targeted NGOs totally deny any form of cooperation with the PLFP.
The reaction of the international community has been generally negative but not sufficiently bold and consequential.
According to Sari Bashi, an Israeli human rights lawyer and advisor to Human Rights Watch, there has been a public outpouring of support over the past week for the six Palestinian civil society groups, including by United Nations human rights experts, a coalition of 24 Israeli civil society groups, and international human rights organizations, all of which demand that the Israeli Defense Ministry cancel the designation. All of this outpouring is good will and is well merited, but as long as Washington remains tolerant of a questionable Israeli policy, Tel-Aviv would ignore the stance of the rest of the world.
Israel has so far failed to show solid evidence for a consequential connection between the victimized NGOs ( Addameer, Alhaq, Bisan Center for research and Development, Defence of Children International- Palestine, Union of Ag work, Union of Pal women’s Committees) and the PFPL. One wonders if Israel is able to validate its accusation. Perhaps, the objective of Gantz’s move was to simply create a climate of suspicion of Palestinian civic society, which has proven to be able to expose the evil of the Israeli occupation. The BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) campaign is an example of creative Palestinian NGO advocacy against Israeli products made in the Palestinian Occupied Territories.
An Israel/Palestine online news outlet, +972 Magazine, invited five analysts to comment on this recently introduced set of challenges for Palestinian civic society. Diana Buttu captured well the politics underlying the affair: Israel and pro-Israel organizations have for years been going after donors to cut off funding to these Palestinian human rights groups — some of which are at the forefront of pushing cases before the International Criminal Court, including against Defense Minister Gantz himself — while also imprisoning human rights defenders on the ground. The donors, including European governments, have themselves repeatedly found no basis for the accusations.
Here are some of the main ideas of these five experts: The legal process of accusation is “flawed” and “shrouded with secrecy”. The labeled organizations do not know exactly what they are accused of. Regardless of the quality of the evidence, the terror designation, by itself, will seriously jeopardize the work of these humanitarian organizations.
Their funding will be limited and the communities they serve will be hurt. Solidarity of partners and friends will become risky. And the victimized organizations do not have the necessary tools and resources to fight a government bent on protecting its image and exploiting its power. Ask the experts: A guide to Israel’s attacks on Palestinian civil society (972mag.com).
Naturally, Israel has been active in defending this questionable criminalization. In a November 2 article, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs argued that the state labeled the six Palestinian NGOs is in accordance with existing local and international norms. The report simply identified a short list of NGO staff and board members who allegedly had been charged or convicted for their “involvement” with the PLFP.
Hypothetically, there may exist a few isolated instances of NGO personnel who are in sympathy, not with criminal violence, but with a single-state solution ideology PLPF, a scenario the PFLP articulated as early as the 1960s. In any case, to link a large set of mainline Palestinian organizations with terrorism is a political strategy of silencing opinion and social action.
Regardless of the degree to which Israel is able to show evidence of contact with a controversial resistance movement, Israel must investigate case by case any suspects of terror, rather than target a whole sector of Palestinian civil resistance? Israel, apparently, has chosen to conduct a demonizing campaign to undermine the morale of Palestinian civil society.
Underlying this authoritarian, overkill strategy is the magnified fear of a state of its own future. What makes Israel so desperate to go brutal on lead civil society groups?
A burden of threats to Israel’s future is contributing to a state policy to de-legitimize the legitimate: a creeping shadow of apartheid; loss of military superiority; softening of American unconditional support; growing of international attention to Palestine’s NGOs; and addiction to settlement building in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods. At the end of day, the very success of Israeli territorial expansion through opening illegal settlements carries its own seeds of failure.
Image of Apartheid: It is no longer unusual to have the Washington Post or the New York Times give space to articles which refer to Israel as apartheid or a future apartheid. Israel is scared of becoming another (former) South Africa. Friends as well as critics of Israel keep challenging its leaders to decide whether they prefer to plan for a Jewish or a democratic state.
Balance of terror: Israel is no longer a regional superpower. In 1967 it defeated several Arab armies and won the war in six days. In contrast, during last May’s Gaza violent outburst with rockets, Israel could not achieve a critical victory through its bloody and destructive air campaign. Previous wars with Hamas and Hezbollah have demonstrated that Israel has lost the ability to win a decisive battle ground. Currently, Israel keeps threatening to strike Iran with decisive destruction of its nuclear facilities and smash Lebanon’s Hezbollah and its extensive missiles’ network, but its military intelligence is well aware that there is a balance of terror in the region, which cannot be broken without grave outcomes for all parties of the conflict. There will be no winners in a new regional war. Israel cannot afford to lose a single battle, but its enemies have the capacity to remobilize after failure.
Washington limits: Israel is well aware that its strongest ally, the US, is not willing, or even capable, of starting another war in the Middle East, given the tragic and costly outcome of the previous Gulf wars and the fiasco intervention in Afghanistan. The growing military and economic regional presence of the Russians, particularly in Syria, cannot be overlooked by Washington.
There is a growing sentiment in the US which questions the use of force in settling the limitless issues of the Middle East. Moreover, Israel can no longer depend on unconditional support from Washington, given the growing ideological rift within American society.
Palestinian resilience( Somood in Arabic): Despite their internal squabbles and the corruption in political leadership, the Palestinians have already learned that their salvation is in territoriality (staying on the land) and the building of international solidarity.
True, isolated acts of Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians do linger on, but the fruits of Palestinian resistance are mostly cultivated by those in command of creative and thoughtful advocacy. It may not be long before Palestinians would ask Israel to annex the entire land between the River and the Sea, to gain access to citizenship in a single state. The alternative is a war of ethnic cleansing, or an old South Africa-like apartheid reality.
To conclude, the current outpouring of sympathy with the victimized Palestinian NGOs should go beyond asking the Israeli state to cancel its outrageous incriminating declaration. A dedicated campaign of International condemnation of Israeli occupation policies is needed to respond to the labeling and its underlying factors. Is an international conference of NGOs Immediately needed to stand up to Israel’s latest irrational move against it victims?
As I write this column, a zoom panel on this issue (scheduled for January 12) is about to start. The title is telling, “Labels and laws: Silencing the Voices of Justice”. LABELS & LAWS: Silencing the Voices of Justice — Friends of Sabeel North America (fosna.org)
The day Israel starts supporting Palestinian NGOs would be the day Jews and Arabs could start building lasting peace.
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