Originally published at Common Dreams
Twenty-one Israel-based civil society groups on Sunday joined Palestine defenders around the world in condemning the Israeli government’s labeling of six Palestinian advocacy groups as terrorist organizations, calling the move “an act of cowardice.”
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s “designation of prominent Palestinian civil society organizations, among them our colleagues in the Palestinian human rights community, as terrorist organizations is a draconian measure that criminalizes critical human rights work,” the groups said in a statement.
“Documentation, advocacy, and legal aid are fundamental activities for the protection of human rights worldwide,” the statement continued. “Criminalizing such work is an act of cowardice, characteristic of repressive authoritarian regimes.”
“Civil society and human rights defenders must be protected,” the signers added. “We stand in solidarity with our Palestinian colleagues, and call on members of the Israeli government and the international community to oppose this decision unequivocally.”
Signatories to the statement include Adalah, B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Combatants for Peace, Parents Against Child Detention, Peace Now, Physicians for Human Rights Israel, and Yesh Din.
They joined other Israelis and human rights defenders around the world—including United Nations experts, U.S. Jewish groups, and numerous U.S. congressional progressives—in denouncing the Israeli government’s move, which came two days before its announcement of 1,355 new homes exclusively for Jewish settler-colonists in the illegally occupied West Bank.
Israel claims all six organizations are secretly controlled by the militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The groups—Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Al-Haq, Defense for Children International Palestine, Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees—deny the charge.
“Israel’s labeling of six Palestinian NGOs as ‘terrorists’ aims to suppress those exposing and challenging apartheid,” asserted the editors of the Israeli news and commentary site +972 Magazine on Sunday, adding that the publication “stands firmly in solidarity with… the targeted groups.”
“[They] are civil society leaders who are deeply committed to protecting the human rights of Palestinian communities suffering the brunt of Israel’s apartheid policies, including children, women, prisoners, farmers, and other vulnerable groups,” the editors continued.
They added that “Israel’s decision to officially label these organizations as ‘terrorists’—opening the door to more severe legal, financial, and violent retribution—is nothing less than an authoritarian move aimed at crushing Palestinians’ ability to resist their oppression.”
The editors of the Israeli paper Haaretz decried the designation as “a stain upon Israel.”
“There is a straight line from defining the nonviolent struggle against the occupation as ‘diplomatic terror’ and designating human rights groups as terrorist organizations,” they wrote on Sunday. “The literal meaning is clear: All resistance to the occupation is terror. Israel is undermining the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate struggle.”
Meanwhile, representatives of the targeted Palestinian groups vowed to continue their work despite the pitfalls presented by the new designation.
“We have been targeted for years, for one reason: We’re succeeding in changing the paradigm around the world by speaking of apartheid,” contended Sahar Francis, head of the prisoner support group Addameer, in an interview with +972 Magazine.
“Our message, along with the other organizations, is that we will not stop working,” she added. “We will not stop providing services to those who need us. We refuse to fall silent on the occupation’s apartheid rule.”