The United States will engage Israel seeking more information about the designation of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organizations, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Friday.
Addameer, Al Haq, Bisan Center, DCI-P, Samidoun and UAWC, were declared by the Justice and Defense Ministries on Friday to be affiliated with the terrorist organization the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
“We will be engaging our Israeli partners for more information regarding the basis for the designation,” Price said on a regular briefing call.
Price said Washington was not given advance warning of the designation, a move that drew criticism from the United Nations Human Rights Office, which said it was “alarmed” at the announcement.
“Counter-terrorism legislation must not be used to constrain legitimate human rights and humanitarian work,” it said, adding that some of the reasons given appeared vague or irrelevant.
“These designations are the latest development in a long stigmatizing campaign against these and other organizations, damaging their ability to deliver on their crucial work,” it said.
Earlier on Friday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the security organizations will “continue to act and intensify the strikes against terrorism and the terrorist infrastructure everywhere, and by all means.”
“This appalling and unjust decision is an attack by the Israeli government on the international human rights movement,” Human Rights Watch, which reportedly works closely with many of the affected NGOs, said in a statement.
“How the international community responds will be a true test of its resolve to protect human rights defenders. We are proud to work with our Palestinian partners and have been doing so for decades. They represent the best of global civil society. We stand with them in challenging this outrageous decision.”
The Defense Ministry charges that the organizations serve as a network on the world stage working undercover as civil society organizations to support the PFLP and pursue its interests.
The NGOs allegedly serve as a branch of PFLP’s leadership. Members of the PFLP serve as senior officials in the groups, and they have employed field activists who have participated in acts of terrorism.
The NGOs are also accused of serving as sources of income for the PFLP, funneling donations from European states and international organizations to the terrorist group. According to a ministry press statement, this is done through forgery and other means of deceit. Some of the funding is also alleged to have been diverted to provide stipends for the families of deceased Palestinian terrorists, as well as promotion of terrorism and violent ideologies.
According to the Defense Ministry, the terrorism classification for six of the NGOs was brought about through cooperation between the Shin Bet and Israel’s National Bureau for Counter Terror Financing and was instituted by the Defense and Justice Ministries according to the 2016 Anti-Terror Law.
The Justice Ministry and Defense Ministry released separate documents classifying the NGOs as being branches of the PFLP. The Justice Ministry’s document adds an additional organization not listed by the Defense Ministry, the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network.
“The organization is an arm of the terrorist organization the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine,” the document released by the Justice Ministry read. Also included in the documents was each NGO’s logo, URL, address and phone number.
In October 2019, Samer Arbid, an accountant for UAWC, was arrested for detonating the bomb that killed 17-year-old Israeli Rina Shnerb and injured members of her family. Abdul Razeq Farraj, UAWC’s Finance and Administration director was also indicted for his involvement in the terrorist attack. The Netherlands had been funding the organization but suspended donations pending an investigation.
In May, four Palestinians were arrested by the Shin Bet for diverting European humanitarian aid through NGOs to the PFLP.
In 2019, the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which has since been folded into the Foreign Affairs Ministry, launched a campaign called Terrorists in Suits to expose the connections between NGOs and PFLP.
The PFLP is a Marxist Palestinian armed organization founded in 1967 by George Habash and is designated by the US Department of State and the European Union.
The Palestinian Authority on Friday condemned Israel’s decision to outlaw six NGOs affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) as an “unhinged assault on Palestinian civil society.”
The PA Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “this fallacious and libelous 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.”
The ministry said that the move is “the latest in a systemic and relentless campaign against Palestinian civil society organizations and leading human rights defenders.”
The ministry warned of “possible serious consequences from this unprecedented assault” and held Israel fully responsible for the safety of the organizations’ staff.
It called on the international community to rise to the occasion and defend these organizations’ right “to work without persecution and the Palestinian people’s fundamental right to advocate for their freedom.”
Lahav Harkov and Reuters contributed to this report.