Israel's Criminalization of Palestinian NGOs


In October 2021, Israel criminalized 6 leading Palestinian NGOs by falsely declaring them 'terrorist' groups. Below are updates related to the designation as well as responses from Canada.

Last updated: April 25, 2022

Overview - Israel's attack on Palestinian NGOs

On October 19, 2021, Israel’s Minister of Defense Benny Gantz announced that he was designating six respected and credible civil society Palestinian NGOs as “terrorist organisations,” effectively criminalizing them. This was followed two weeks later by a military order which officially allows Israeli occupation forces to shut down the NGO offices in the West Bank, to confiscate their property, and to arrest and prosecute their staff. This puts the work and safety of the NGOs’ employees and volunteers in serious danger.

Under the Israeli counter-terrorism law, it is now a crime for both Israelis and Palestinians to provide any form of funding or services to these NGOs, and one can be imprisoned for up to three years for simply expressing support for their activities.

The NGOs targeted by Israel include:

This attack on Palestinian civil society is not entirely new, but is consistent with a long pattern of repression by Israel. For example, in 2021, DCIP had its offices raided by Israeli forces, and employees from three of the targeted NGOs have recently discovered Israeli Pegasus spyware on their phones.

As CJPME and other human rights groups have warned, this designation is certain to have catastrophic consequences for the ability of these organizations to conduct their human rights work and their ability to secure funding, and it poses a grave threat to the safety and well-being of their employees and volunteers.

Do Israel's allegations have any credibility?

No. Israel has failed to provide any “evidence” that would justify a designation of such severe implications, and there is no reason to expect that any forthcoming information would be more convincing.

  • A dossier with confidential allegations provided by Israel to European lawmakers and leaked to the press has been widely discredited. An investigation by +972 Magazine and Local Call "found no real evidence to justify Israel's claims." As reported by the Associated Press, Israel's dossier "contains little concrete evidence and failed to convince European countries to stop funding the groups." (Nov 6, 2021)
  • A second Israeli dossier of allegations shared with European officials and obtained by +972 Magazine and Local Call "does not present any real evidence against the groups," proving that Israel has been "unable to substantiate its claims." (Jan 13 2022)
  • Israel's Military Attorney has denied a request by the 6 targeted Palestinian NGOs to review the "evidence" against them, arguing that the "core of the designations" is based on classified material that will remain secret. According to Israeli human rights group Adalah (which is representing the organizations), this reliance on "secret evidence" means that the NGOs "do not have any possibility to defend themselves": "This persecution contradicts all basic principles of due process and fairness, and is carried out by means that characterize repressive authoritarian regimes." (Jan 6 2022)

This continued lack of evidence strongly indicates that the purpose of Israel's designation is to eliminate the advocacy of Palestinian NGOs, and to severe their relationships with international donors.

How has the international community responded?

Israel’s crackdown on the six NGOs has been universally condemned by global civil society. Below are some initial examples:

  • Joint statement by UN Agencies and the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA), together representing UN development and humanitarian entities, agencies, funds and programs, as well as 83 international NGOs working in the OPT: “The decision is a further erosion of civic and humanitarian space and stands to significantly constrain the work of the six organisations which have worked with the international community, including the UN, for decades, providing essential services to countless Palestinians. Past allegations of misuse of our funds by Palestinian civil society organization partners have not been substantiated.”
  • Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch: “This decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations. The decades-long failure of the international community to challenge grave Israeli human rights abuses and impose meaningful consequences for them has emboldened Israeli authorities to act in this brazen manner.”
  • Joint statement by more than twenty Israeli human rights groups, including B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Peace Now, Physicians for Human Rights Israel, Yish Din, and more: Israel’s move is “a draconian measure that criminalizes critical human rights work [...] criminalizing such work is an act of cowardice, characteristic of repressive authoritarian regimes.”
  • UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet: “Israel's decision to designate six Palestinian civil society organizations as ‘terrorist organizations’ is an attack on human rights defenders, on freedoms of association, opinion and expression and on the right to public participation, and should be immediately revoked.”
  • Letter from nine United Nations Special Rapporteurs for Human Rights: “Since the October designation, there has been a striking lack of evidence and transparency offered by Israel to justify its allegations. The best available public information indicates that Israel has not substantiated these charges, neither publicly nor to Western governments, which support, either directly or indirectly, the work of many of these organizations […] Should Israel’s allegations against these Palestinians organizations remain unsubstantiated, they will still likely cause serious harm.”

Israel’s move has also been questioned by the United States, the European Union, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and many other officials. In the US, Representative Betty McCollum has introduced a resolution to condemn the criminalization of Palestinian NGOs.

In February 2022, France told the UN Security Council that they would continue to support the NGOs due to Israel's "absence of evidence."

In March 2022, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet reaffirmed that they have no credible evidence to justify the designations, and urges that they be revoked:

These designation decisions were based on vague and unsubstantiated allegations; my Office remains unaware of any credible evidence to support these accusations. A number of Member States, notably those providing financial support to these organizations, have also questioned the basis for these decisions. After the end of the reporting period, the Israeli military denied a request by human rights organizations to share the evidence justifying the decisions, citing threats to national security.

These designations and declarations by Israeli authorities raise serious concerns that counter-terrorism legislation and military orders are being used to halt, restrict or criminalise legitimate human rights and humanitarian work, including important work on accountability. These measures, adding to a series of actions undermining civil society organisations working for the human rights of Palestinians, constitute an attack on human rights defenders, and seriously inhibit freedoms of association, opinion and expression and the right to public participation.

I call upon Israel to revoke the designations against Palestinian human rights and humanitarian organisations as terrorist or unlawful organisations, absent sufficient evidentiary basis for them.

In April 2022, UN experts issued a statement noting that "Israel has had six months to substantiate its accusations and it has failed to deliver." The experts urged the international community to: "Publicly conclude that Israel has not substantiated its allegations against the six organisations; Resume, continue and even increase its financial and political support for the work of these six organisations; and demand that Israel retract the designations and cease its harassment of all Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights and civil society organisations which promote human rights and accountability in Israel and Palestine."

What has been the response in Canada?

Unfortunately, Canada has been almost entirely silent on the matter. On December 7, 2021, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly noted that she is waiting for "clarity" from Israel before taking a position:

  • Joly: "I raised the question regarding the Palestinian civil society organizations listed by Israel as terrorist organizations with my counterpart, Lapid, when I had the chance to talk to him. Of course, he said to me that he would be giving more clarity on this matter, so I am waiting for him." (Transcript, Video)

On March 24, in response to a petition urging Canada to demand that Israel rescind the designations, the Minister of Foreign Affairs provided a written response which did not take a clear position on the issues, did not criticize Israeli policy, but merely affirmed that Canada did not fund terrorist organizations.

Despite the Canadian government's avoidance of the issue, other Canadian politicians and civil society organizations have urged action in support of the Palestinian NGOs:

Other voices, unfortunately, have been pushing the government to cancel funding to the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) based on Israel's false 'terrorist' designation. Those who have been pushing this line include Conservative MP Marty Morantz and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). This push has intensified following the decision of the Dutch government to end funding for the UAWC following an 18-month suspension and investigation. However, as noted by the UAWC in its response, the Dutch government's investigation did not find any organizational or financial links to the PFLP, and did not find any misuse of funds, but based its decision on the alleged political affiliations of individuals working at the NGO. The Dutch government's decision has been strongly condemned by the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PNGO) and a group of 13 Israeli human rights groups who insist that the international community should maintain or even increase their support for UAWC and other Palestinian NGOs. It has also been condemned by 60 civil society organizations, mostly in Europe, who urge the Dutch government to reverse its decision and resume funding to UAWC immediately. 

Protect_Human_Rights_Defenders_in_Palestine!.pngHow should the Canadian government respond?

CJPME urges the Canadian government to take a strong stand for human rights defenders in Palestine. Canada can play a leading role on the international stage by:

  • Condemning Israel’s criminalization of Palestinian NGOs, and firmly rejecting the fraudulent “terrorist” designation;
  • Holding Israeli officials accountable for its attacks on civil society by imposing sanctions; and
  • Doing everything in its power to support and protect the work of human rights defenders in Palestine, including by making its diplomatic resources in Tel Aviv and Ramallah available to the targeted NGOs, should they request it.

Click here to send an email to the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, your local MP, and other federal political leaders. Canada must take action to protect human rights defenders!

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