August 22, 2022
President Joe Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Mr. Antony J. Blinken
Secretary of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Mr. Biden and Mr. Blinken,
We write in connection with the Israeli government's actions against seven leading Palestinian civil society organizations, confirming the decision to outlaw the activities of six of them, raiding their offices, and issuing closure orders against them. The Israeli Shin Bet subsequently targeted the leaders of at least two of these organizations in further acts of intimidation and harassment. These actions are an assault on the basic human rights of Palestinians to assemble and organize freely and an example of the Israeli government's weaponization of "counter-terrorism laws" in its relentless attacks against civil society activists. Despite repeated demands from governments and human rights organizations around the world, Israel has offered no credible evidence to support its allegations against these groups, and as a result, nine European Union (EU) states and Norway have rejected Israel's claims and continued to support the organizations.
The U.S. government's failure to censure Israel's human rights violations while continuing to provide it with matchless military and political support is understood as US acquiescence to these actions, and clearly the Israeli government feels empowered to repress Palestinian civil society with impunity. To demonstrate its stated commitment to human rights and the protection of civil society, the U.S. government should take immediate steps to support the Palestinian civil society organizations by meeting with representatives of the groups, openly rejecting the Israeli designations, demanding that Israel reverse its designations, and suspending military assistance to Israel so long as its systematic abuses of Palestinians, including this latest attack, continue.
On August 18, Israeli authorities raided the offices of seven prominent Palestinian civil society organizations, seizing documents, printers and computers, welding the doors shut, and issuing closure orders against the organizations. The organizations that were issued closure orders are: Defense for Children International – Palestine, Al Haq; Addameer; Bisan Center for Research and Development; Union of Agricultural Work Committees; Union of Palestinian Women's Committees; and Health Work Committees. This follows the Israeli government's move last year to outlaw the groups, designating them as "terrorist" organizations under Israeli law, and as "unlawful associations" under military law, which it applies in the occupied West Bank. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz's confirmed many of these designations on August 17, though several groups still have a pending challenge against the 'terrorism' designation. On August 21, the Shin Bet interrogated Khaled Quzmar, General Director of DCI Palestine, for two hours and contacted Shawan Jabarin, General Director of Al-Haq, to threaten him, order Al-Haq to cease its activities and demand he come in for interrogation.
Following the initial designation on October 22, 2021 of the groups as "terrorist" organizations and in November 2021 as "unlawful associations," Israeli officials engaged in a political campaign to convince European and American officials that they had evidence against the organizations that supported the allegations against them. In November 2021, the Associated Press and +972 Magazine reported that a leaked 74-page document, apparently prepared by Israel's Shin Bet internal security agency, was shared with European governments in May 2021. In July 2022, nine EU states – Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden – said that they received "no substantial information" that justified the Israeli claims and that they would continue their financial support to the organizations. When announcing this decision, the nine countries stated, "No substantial information was received from Israel that would justify reviewing our policy towards the six Palestinian NGOs. In the absence of such evidence, we will continue our cooperation and strong support for the civil society in the OPT."
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price acknowledged on November 4, 2021 that an Israeli delegation had presented information about the designations to U.S. officials and stated that the U.S. authorities would carry out an assessment and make its own determination. Since then, despite some Congressional support to the Palestinian organizations and Congressional rejection of the Israeli claims, as well as a joint statement by UN experts, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, calling for the resumption of funding to the six organizations, the Biden administration remained silent. On August 18, 2022, Price stated: "We are concerned about the Israeli security forces' closure of the six offices of the Palestinian NGOs in and around Ramallah today. We have reached out to the Israeli government, including at senior levels, including here from Washington as well as our embassy in Jerusalem, for more information regarding the basis for these closures." According to the Guardian, a classified CIA report found that there was no credible evidence against the organizations.
At the same time, the U.S. government has continued to provide the Israeli government with billions in military support. Notwithstanding the overwhelming record of Israeli human rights abuses, President Biden reiterated the United States' "ironclad" support for Israel during his trip to Israel and the West Bank in July 2022, and refused to meet with the Palestinian organizations despite calls from U.S. civil society organizations for him to do so.
Israel's labeling of these Palestinian organizations as "terrorist" and the campaign to use evidence that has been roundly discredited could also undermine legitimate and lawful global efforts to respond to terrorism. In their April 2022 letter, UN Experts explained how Israel's actions abuse such efforts, stating:
The United Nations has been very clear that the drafting and application of anti-terrorism laws have to be rigorously consistent with international law and human rights protections, including the principles of legal certainty, necessity, proportionality, the rule of law and non-discrimination. We are deeply disturbed by Israel's apparent misuse of anti-terrorism legislation to attack some of the leading civil society organisations in Palestine. Such misuse must be rejected and countered.
By its silence and inaction to condemn Israel's actions against the Palestinian organizations while continuing to provide unconditional U.S. military and political support to Israel, the Biden Administration is effectively acquiescing to repressive attacks on Palestinian civil society. In addition to the threat against individual Palestinian human rights defenders, this could have devastating consequences for the marginalized communities these organizations serve, including women, children, farmers, and poor families.
We, the undersigned organizations, urge the Biden Administration to take immediate action and make public its promised but long delayed assessment of the Israeli evidence and to follow the lead of its European counterparts in explicitly rejecting Israel's baseless designation of these groups as "terrorist" and "unlawful associations." The administration should demand that Israel reverse its determinations and cease all punitive actions against them, and President Biden should instruct the U.S. Ambassador in Jerusalem, Tom Nides, to meet publicly with representatives of the targeted organizations. Finally, the Administration should suspend military assistance to Israel so long as its systematic abuses of Palestinians, including this latest attack, continue.
- Adalah Justice Project
- AJP Action
- American Friends Service Committee
- American Muslims for Palestine
- Center for Constitutional Rights
- Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)
- Human Rights Watch
- Jewish Voice for Peace Action
- MENA Rights Group
- US Campaign for Palestinian Rights
- Virginia Coalition for Human Rights