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.
Jump to section:
- Overview - Israel's attack on Palestinian NGOs
- Do Israel's allegations have any credibility?
- How has the international community responded?
- What has been the response in Canada?
- How should the Canadian government respond?
- Other CJPME resources on this topic
Last updated: January 12, 2023
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.
On August 18, 2022, Israel occupation forces violently raided and damaged the Ramallah offices of the six Palestinian NGOs, confiscating property, welding the doors shut, and leaving a military order declaring the organizations to be unlawful. Days later, Israel summoned two NGO general directors for interrogations, threatening them arrest if they do not stop their work.
The NGOs targeted by Israel include:
- Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P), which promotes and protects the rights of Palestinian children under occupation;
- Al-Haq, a human rights and international law organization that participates actively at the United Nations;
- Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, which provides legal aid to Palestinian political prisoners and collects data on abuses in Israeli prisons;
- Bisan Centre for Research and Development, which provides programming for community development, youth, and ending violence against women;
- The Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), which promotes food security and the rights of Palestinian farmers;
- The Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, which provides programs to empower women and fight against gender discrimination.
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. CJPME has written to Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs on several occasions and has not received a response.
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, including United Nations agencies and human rights groups. Many governments initially expressed skepticism about Israel's claims, and later declared that they had not seen any credible evidence to justify Israel's designations. The United States has said it hasn't seen enough evidence, and at least 10 European countries have said that they will continue to support the Palestinian organizations in the absence of evidence.
UN officials and human rights groups:
- 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.”
- 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 ... 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."
- In August 2022, a second joint statement by UN Agencies and the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) said: "despite offers to review the allegations to determine if funds have been diverted, Israeli authorities have not given any compelling evidence to the United Nations Agencies nor its NGO partners working in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to support these designations," and that "the attempted closures of these organization offices represent the latest in a series of actions by Israel that are further limiting the ability of human rights, humanitarian and development work in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which affect all institutions working to promote human rights, development and delivering assistance."
- In August 2022, 47 Israeli civil society organizations issued a public letter expressing support for the NGOs following Israel's raids, calling Israel's allegations against them "baseless," and saying that "criminalizing [human rights] activity is a deplorable act characteristic of repressive regimes.
Israel’s move was questioned early on by the United States, the European Union, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and many other officials. In the US, Representative Betty McCollum has introduced a resolution to condemn the criminalization of Palestinian NGOs.
In July 2022, nine European countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Holland, Spain and Sweden) issued a joint statement concluding that “No substantial information was received from Israel that would justify reviewing our policy towards the six Palestinian NGOs,” and that “In the absence of such evidence, we will continue our cooperation and strong support for the civil society in the OPT.” This was echoed by Norway in a statement a few days later: "In Norway’s view, the information we have received from Israel is not sufficient to justify the designation of the six organizations as ‘terrorist organizations.' … Norway will continue its cooperation with and support to civil society in the occupied Palestinian territories." (July 2022)
In August 2022, the United States State Department said that Israel still hadn't provided enough information to justify its terror designations against the Palestinian NGOs, and it was reported that the US Central Intelligence Agency had been provided with Israeli 'intelligence' but had not been able to corroborate Israel's claims.
In August 2022, the European Union's High Representative said that Israel's raids on NGOs were "not acceptable," and reiterated that "no substantial information was received from Israel that would justify reviewing our policy towards the six Palestinian civil society organisations on the basis of the Israeli decision to designate these NGOs as ‘terrorist organisations.'"
What has been the response in Canada?
Unfortunately, Canada has been almost entirely silent on the matter, and have avoided taking a clear position on several occasions:
- On December 7, 2021, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly noted that she is waiting for "clarity" from Israel before taking a position: "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, 2022, 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 nor criticize Israeli policy, but merely affirmed that Canada did not fund terrorist organizations.
- Immediately following Israel's raids on the NGO offices in August 2022, Al-Haq tweeted a list of 17 countries whose diplomats were visiting the organization and expressing support for the Palestinian NGOs. Canada was conspicuously absent from the list. The next day, the Canada in Ramallah Twitter account put out a weak statement: "Canada is following with concern the situation regarding Palestinian NGOs whose offices were raided by Israel, and are in touch with Israel to seek information. The protection of human rights is a Canadian priority and civil society plays a critical role in this regard."
- On September 20, 2022, the Minister issued a response to a petition which was urging Canada to act, but once again refused to take a clear position. Notably, the response said: "Canada is following with concern the situation regarding Palestinian NGOs whose offices were raided by Israel, and we are in touch with Israel to seek further information on this matter. The protection of human rights is a priority for Canada, and civil society plays a critical role in this regard."
- On January 12, 2022, in the first concrete expression of support for any of the 6 organizations, Canada's representative in Ramallah tweeted about a meeting with Addameer, praising their work and referring to the "threats" that face "due to their #HumanRights work."
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:
- Letter from the Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group notes the "lack of clarity and documentation" regarding Israel's designation of the NGOs, and calls on Canada "to insist that Israeli officials provide clear and documentary evidence to support these claims and, if none exists, to withdraw these designations." The letter further calls on Canada to "make clear Canada’s commitment to human rights and our insistence that legitimate civil society groups be free to provide vitally needed assistance support to and for the Palestinian people." (November 30, 2021)
- Statement from NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson calls out Canada's silence on the designation, and describes Israel's policy as an "unjustified attack on civil society that will have severe consequences for the children and families who receive critical services from these organizations." (Dec 22, 2021)
- Parliamentary e-petition sponsored by Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith would "call upon the Israeli authorities to immediately rescind the designations and end all efforts aimed at delegitimizing and criminalizing Palestinian human rights defenders." (Nov 2021)
- NDP MPs Leah Gazan, Niki Ashton, and Matthew Green, as well as Quebec MNA Ruba Ghazal, add their names to a joint statement with the Inter-Parliamentary Task Force to Promote Palestinian Human Rights, alongside legislators from Belgium, Ireland, Finland, Spain, Slovenia, and Italy. In the statement, lawmakers "urge our governments to listen to the demands from Palestinian CSOs, and use all available means to end Israel’s impunity and hold authorities accountable for their egregious attacks on civil society and human rights defenders." (Nov 9, 2021)
- CJPME's letter to Mélanie Joly, "Human Rights Defenders Need Action, Not 'Clarity,'" urges Joly "to end Canada’s hesitation on this matter and act immediately to protect human rights defenders in Palestine." (Dec 13, 2021)
- Letter from the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), Amnesty Canada, and other Canadian civil society groups, urges Canada "to make an immediate public statement, alongside our allies, in defense of human rights and decry this designation of these six Palestinian civil society organizations" (Dec 1)
- Letter from the Coalition of Canadian Palestinian Organizations "denounces this action by Israel and views it as a deliberate attempt to silence and censor Palestinian human rights voices that report of Israel's violations of international law" (Oct 27, 2021)
- Statement from Just Peace Advocates and other Canadian civil society groups: "Defending Palestinian Human Rights is not 'Terrorism'” (Oct 2021)
Parliamentary e-petition sponsored by NDP MP Jenny Kwan calls on Canada "to take concrete action against the Israeli occupation authorities' continued harassment and criminalization of Palestinian human rights defenders and civil society organizations" (June 14, 2022)
- CJPME's second letter to Mélanie Joly: Canada must respond to escalation of attacks on Palestinian NGOs (August 18, 2022)
- Statement from Independent Jewish Voices: Jewish group calls on Canadian government to condemn Israeli raids on Palestinian civil society (August 18, 2022)
- Letter from the United Church of Canada to Mélanie Joly: "Canada's continued silence on this matter is emboldening the Government of Israel's blatant and ongoing violations of international law and condoning impunity" (August 18, 2022).
- In a meeting with the Canadian representatives in Ramallah, a delegation from CJPME and other Canadian organizations urged the mission to denounce Israel's criminalization of the 6 organizations (October 31, 2022)
Other voices, unfortunately, have been pushing the government to cancel (indirect) 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.
How 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 Foreign Affairs minister, your local MP, and other federal political leaders and diplomats. Canada must take action to protect human rights defenders!
Other CJPME resources on this topic
- Email campaign: Protect Human Rights Defenders in Palestine!
- CJPME's Letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly: Canada must respond to escalation of attacks on Palestinian NGOs (August 18, 2022)
- CJPME's Letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly: Human Rights Defenders Need Action, Not 'Clarity' (Dec 13, 2021)
- Podcast: "#StandWithThe6: Will Canada Support Human Rights Defenders in Palestine?" (Nov 25, 2021)
- Joint letter: CJPME joins 234 organizations in urging action to protect Palestinian civil society (Oct 30, 2021)
- Press Release: CJPME Urges Canada to Act as Israel Outlaws 6 Prominent Palestinian Civil Society Groups (Oct 22, 2021)