Israel labels Palestinian civil society groups terrorists.

Oct 27, 2021
(Image: Unsplash)

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz last week signed an order declaring six civil society groups in the West Bank as terrorist organisations.

And a push by Australia’s parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security to list all of Hamas as a terrorist organisation will further condemn Palestinians to the futile hurling of rocks from inside their Israeli-made prison.

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz last week signed an order declaring six civil society groups in the West Bank as terrorist organisations.

Some of these groups operate as human rights organisations: Addameer offers legal support to prisoners and collects data on arrests and administrative detentions, and actively works to end torture and violations of prisoners’ rights. Al-Haq documents the violations of Palestinians’ rights in the West Bank and monitors the killings of children and the wellbeing of arrested children in Israel.

The NGOs also include a women’s rights organisation and an agricultural labour association.

The six groups are Addameer, Al-Haq, the Bisan Centre, the Defence for Children International Palestine, the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.

A joint statement by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called the decision “appalling and unjust. This decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organisations.”

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates “unequivocally condemned” Gantz’s decision.

“This fallacious and libellous slander is a strategic assault on Palestinian civil society and the Palestinian people’s fundamental right to oppose Israel’s illegal occupation and expose its continuing crimes,” a ministry statement said.

The ministry also warned “of possible serious consequences from this unprecedented assault and holds Israel fully responsible for the safety of the organisations’ staff”.

Naming innocent people as terrorists automatically puts them and their families in danger. Given the Israeli defence force’s predilection for violence against the innocent, this proclamation gives them carte blanche clearance for such violence without consequences.

This announcement is outrageous and requires swift condemnation by the international community, not least from the US and Australia.

Are we likely to hear it? I fear we are more likely to hear it from the Biden administration than the Morrison government.

In the past few days the Morrison government has further eroded any remaining trust that it will work to uphold human rights and international law anywhere, and particularly in Israel/Palestine.

First, it has indicated it wishes to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. Antisemitism does not need any further definition and, like all forms of racism, needs to be addressed and called out wherever and whenever it raises its head.

But criticism of Israel’s appalling treatment of Palestinians is not antisemitism. Even the authors of the IHRA definition have said they did not intend its use as the political weapon it has now become. The definition is being used to squash criticism of Israel. The use of the definition, particularly in universities, will shut down honest research and freedom of speech and further intimidate fair-minded journalism

Second, the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, chaired by Liberal senator James Paterson, has recommended the government consider listing Hamas in its entirety as a terrorist organisation. Currently only the military wing is so defined.

In 2006 Hamas won elections that the US and its allies pushed for. The elections were supervised by former US president Jimmy Carter’s Carter Centre as well as the United States Congressional Research Service. In their report they state the election was overseen by 17,268 domestic observers, complemented by 900 credentialled international monitors. They said:

“The Bush administration accepted the outcome of the Palestinian legislative elections and praised the PA for holding free and fair elections… the conduct of the election was widely considered to be free and fair.”

Israel, the US, Australia and others never acknowledged or accepted the democratic will of the Palestinian people.

Hamas was never given an opportunity to govern or to engage with their occupiers, the US or others. Rather, Israel and its allies sought to isolate and punish Hamas and the Palestinian people for having the audacity to elect someone they did not like.

Hamas now governs the Gaza Strip and some two million people. The United Nations stated in 2015 that Gaza would be “uninhabitable” by 2020. It is now entering its 15th year of a cruel and barbaric air, land, and sea blockade. Through the blockade Israel controls the Gaza Strip and its people.

If the parliamentary joint committee listing becomes a reality, it will potentially define several million people, by default, as terrorists. The people of Gaza are among the poorest and most oppressed in the world. Unemployment, especially among the young, is high. The necessities of life, including potable water, are in very short supply.

The international community has a responsibility to assist Palestinians to form a unity government which will have the confidence of its people and to build the framework of a sustainable and ultimately prosperous civil society. Israel does all it can to oppose and undermine such an outcome.

The listing would destroy any possibility of Australia being seen as an honest broker and further condemns Palestinians, in association with Hamas, to the futility of hurling rocks from inside their Israeli-made prison. It is short-sighted. It is a step in the wrong direction and cements hostility.

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