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Palestinian NGOs Speak Out After Israeli Forces Raid Offices & Declare Them to Be “Terrorist” Groups

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Israeli forces raided and closed the offices of seven Palestinian civil society rights groups in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, six of which Israeli authorities had designated as terrorist groups last year. The raid came as the United Nations condemned Israel for killing 19 Palestinian children in recent weeks, and 100 days after Israeli forces shot dead Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh while covering an Israeli military raid in the Jenin refugee camp. We speak to Sahar Francis and Brad Parker, with two of the human rights groups Israel raided. Parker, senior adviser for policy and advocacy at Defense for Children International – Palestine, describes how 100 Israeli soldiers gathered outside his organization’s building before dozens broke into the offices to confiscate items and files, sealed the building and left behind notices declaring the organization unlawful. He calls the raid “part of a years-long campaign to delegitimize and essentially criminalize the work that we do to expose grave violations against Palestinians at the hands of Israeli authorities.” In Ramallah, Sahar Francis of Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association says the attack “aims to silence us.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Israeli forces raided and closed the offices of seven Palestinian civil society groups in the occupied West Bank Thursday. Several of the groups report soldiers confiscated items and files before leaving behind notices declaring the groups unlawful. Israel designated six out of the seven groups as terrorist organizations last year, a decision met with criticism from both the United Nations and international human rights groups. Groups raided on Thursday include the human rights organization Al-Haq, the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International–Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Workers Committees and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.

Israel’s crackdown on Palestinian civil society groups has been condemned across the globe. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned Thursday’s raids, stating, quote, “Israel’s disturbing designation of these organizations as 'terrorist organizations' has not been accompanied by any public concrete and credible evidence,” they said. Amnesty International also condemned Israel’s actions and praised the Palestinian groups targeted. One Amnesty official said, quote, “These organizations have contributed enormously to human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and across the globe, yet Israeli army boots trample all over their work,” Amnesty said.

Thursday’s raids came 100 days after Israeli forces shot dead Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh as she covered an Israeli military raid on the Jenin refugee camp. The Israeli raid also came as the United Nations has condemned Israel for killing 19 children in recent weeks in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

We’re joined now by members of two of the Palestinian groups raided Thursday. Brad Parker is with us, senior adviser for policy and advocacy at Defense for Children International–Palestine, one of the groups criminalized by Israel. He is based here in the United States. And joining us from Ramallah is Sahar Francis, general director at Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association.

Sahar Francis, let’s begin with you. Describe for us what took place on Thursday.

SAHAR FRANCIS: Hello.

And actually, yesterday, we waked up for the terrible news that the Israeli occupation forces raided Ramallah City, and they entered to the Palestinian seven organizations, and they confiscated property and messed the files and broke furniture. And they sealed the doors of these seven organizations in order to enforce the closure, of physically closing all the seven organizations, and to implement, actually, what the military commander authorized last year, that these seven organizations are illegal organizations and they are not supposed to continue their essential work, that we continued, actually, to implement in the last couple of months to offer the services, the usual important service that we do for prisoners, for children, for women, for farmers, for patients, and to protect human rights in general, to document all these violations, as you described in your introduction, that takes place on daily basis on the Occupied Territories, and to advocate and lobby around these war crimes in order to seek accountability.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Brad Parker, can you describe what happened to Defense for Children International–Palestine?

BRAD PARKER: So, early morning, around 5:30 a.m. yesterday, Israeli forces, there was around a hundred soldiers outside of our office, from the CCTV footage inside the office, you know, dozens of soldiers inside sort of rooting through desks, files, removing a photocopier, printer, computer, client files, the files of the children that we represent in the Israeli military courts. You know, as Sahar said, they sealed our door, so physically welded shut the door with metal, and then taped a notice to the door ordering the closure of the office and essentially shutting down, or attempting to shut down, our activities.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this follows last year the designation of six Palestinian human rights groups by the Israeli government as terrorist, including both of yours, Defense for Children International and, Sahar, your group, Addameer. Among those that condemned this, the United Nations, foreign ministries of Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. Sahar Francis, what has this meant for your organization?

SAHAR FRANCIS: Of course, this is really a step aimed to silence us and to prevent us from, as I said, offering the services we do and the documentation of the violations. And this support of the international community, whether from the U.N. side or the diplomatic side, all these states that you named, it just came to confirm our respected work and the professionalism that we are implementing our work in and the fact that all the secret information that Israel claimed that it’s the base for their decision, this is a proof that this information was insufficient, and these countries didn’t — were not convinced, actually, that this is a base for the Israeli allegation. And this is why they continued to support us and they issued their statement. So, we believe that the Israeli action yesterday came as an answer for such a statement and the rejection from these states for the Israeli allegations. So, in fact, actually, yesterday Israel sent a message that “We are the masters. We are the ones who controls in the occupied territory and decides who could continue or not in the reality on the ground.”

AMY GOODMAN: In July, Democratic Congressmember Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and 21 other congressmembers sent a letter to the Biden administration demanding public rejection of the Israeli delegation of Palestinian human rights groups as “terrorist” groups by Israeli authorities. The lawmakers wrote, in part, quote, “A reported lack of evidence to support this decision raises concerns that it may be a deeply repressive measure, designed to criminalize and silence prominent and essential Palestinian human rights organizations. … The U.S. must always and consistently speak out against efforts by all countries attempting to undermine civil society and the necessary work of humanitarian organizations,” unquote. Brad Parker, has there been any response from the Biden administration?

BRAD PARKER: Not as of yet. And I think the Biden administration has been pretty silent on the designations and the attempts to criminalize Palestinian civil society over the past 10 months. The usual sort of rhetoric is that they are reviewing the information that the Israeli authorities have provided, but they haven’t sort of taken a position one way or the other. That was, maybe with some nuance, adjusted slightly yesterday, saying that — the State Department spokesperson noted that the information so far doesn’t suggest that the U.S. would change their position, even though that position has never been articulated in an express way. So, maybe that’s an opening.

But I think it’s also important that over the past 10 months, you know, the conduct by Israeli authorities to criminalize us and criminalize our work is really part of a years-long campaign to delegitimize and essentially criminalize the work that we do to expose grave violations against Palestinians at the hands of Israeli forces and the work that we do to hold Israeli officials accountable, whether it’s at the International Criminal Court or the lobbying work that we do globally with various governments. So, I think the letter from Representative Pressley, and combined with the various European governments, United Nations officials coming out consistently to condemn these repressive tactics by the Israeli government to criminalize our work, says everything that people should know, that we are researchers, we are social workers, we are lawyers, working to highlight the human impact of Israeli policies and Israeli oppression on Palestinians living in occupied Palestinian territory.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this week, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, the former Chilean president, expressed alarm over the number of Palestinian children killed recently by Israel. Over the past 10 days, Israeli forces have killed 19 Palestinian children — 17 in Gaza and two in the occupied West Bank. In a statement, President Bachelet said, quote, “Inflicting hurt on any child during the course of conflict is deeply disturbing, and the killing and maiming of so many children this year is unconscionable,” she said.

Now, earlier this week, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that an internal Israeli military report has acknowledged that an Israeli airstrike near the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza killed five Palestinian children August 7th. The youngest child was 4 years old. During Israel’s recent assault on Gaza, Israeli officials repeatedly denied killing Palestinian children. This is Keren Hajioff, the international spokesperson for the Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, speaking August 6th.

KEREN HAJIOFF: Tonight Islamic Jihad terrorists fired a rocket toward Israel, which fell short inside Gaza, hitting a Palestinian home in the Jabaliya neighborhood and tragically killing at least four children. There is video documenting the entire thing. There was no Israeli activity in the Gaza Strip in that area or at that time. Islamic Jihad is killing Palestinian children in Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Brad Parker, you are with Defense for Children International. Your response?

BRAD PARKER: So, what we’ve seen over the past 10 years or more is that Israeli forces routinely carry out attacks in densely populated civilian and residential areas, where children bear the brunt of those attacks. Over the past year, so far in 2022, we’ve documented 20 Palestinian children shot dead by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank. We documented 17 Palestinian kids killed during the latest round of Israeli military offensive in Gaza. We continue to investigate a number of those cases, but the case referenced here in the cemetery in Jabaliya is attributed to Israeli forces.

And it really is a pattern that we see consistently, going back, as I said, more than 10 years, where Israeli forces attack and use explosive weapons, targeted strikes, drone strikes, where there’s complete disregard for international humanitarian law and the rules of war for who can be targeted. And we constantly are documenting cases of Israeli forces killing Palestinian children, whether excessive use of force, disproportionate use of force or intentionally targeting civilians, including children, that amount to war crimes and just complete disregard for international law.

AMY GOODMAN: Sahar Francis, you’re general director at Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association. You recently were denied boarding in Israel for a flight that was transiting through the United States to a meeting you were trying to attend in Mexico. Do you have any information about why you were barred? Are you on some kind of blacklist?

SAHAR FRANCIS: Actually, this was very shocking at that time, when I was banned boarding to the airplane, without even explaining to me in real time why I was not allowed, while I had a valid visa to the United States 'til April 23. And then I tried to figure why I was banned, actually. And several months after, just in June, I get a response that my visa was canceled, again without explaining actually why my visa was canceled. And I think it's totally related to the fact that what we are facing as an organization, the allegations from the Israeli side. And actually, the silence of the U.S. on the official position against this designation of the organizations could be one of the reasons for such practices against the individuals, against myself, against other colleagues, that they would be banned travel outside of the Occupied Territories or other harassment and threatens and intimidations that we can face as human rights defenders because of this Israeli attack against the organizations.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this month, the European Union, with a majority vote, decided to unfreeze up to $215 million in funds for the six Palestinian groups, like Addameer, that had been designated by Israel as terrorists, though so many countries in the United Nations have condemned this designation. Do you know what’s happening with this money?

SAHAR FRANCIS: Actually, Addameer, specifically, we are not getting direct fund from this fund. But I would believe that the commission with the local office of the EU would be responsible for maintaining and continuing the projects that some of the six organizations were involved on, because it’s really — there’s no basis, no clear evidences against the organizations that can justify what was the freezing the projects that were implemented. And it was much politicized from the side of the EU at the first point to suspend the projects with these organizations.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, your organization is currently working to stop administrative detention, which enables the Israeli government to detain anyone based on secret information. How many people are held in this condition? And will the fact that the Israeli military raided your offices, where you have your legal cases — does that compromise the work you can do?

SAHAR FRANCIS: Definitely it will compromise the kind of legal services that we can offer for the administrative detainees and for the other Palestinian political prisoners we are representing in front of the military courts, the Israeli military courts. Currently, there’s around 700 administrative detainees. Some of them, they are children. Some, they are sick people, that they need urgent health treatment while in administrative detention.

And at least one person, Khalil Awawdeh, he’s in more than 150 days of a hunger strike, under immediate threat to his life, where Addameer, we’re, in the last couple of days, with the support of the other colleagues from the human rights organizations, issuing urgent appeal to release him and trying to lobby on his behalf to be released under these circumstances.

AMY GOODMAN: Sahar Francis, I want to thank you for being with us, general director at Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, speaking to us from Ramallah, from the occupied West Bank, and Brad Parker of Defense for Children International–Palestine, both groups raided by Israeli forces on Thursday.

Next up, “No Tech for ICE.” A coalition of immigrant rights groups is suing LexisNexis for selling personal data to U.S. immigration authorities. Stay with us.

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