Representative from Israel’s internal intelligence agency, Shin Bet, tasked with briefing U.S. Congress on Israel’s labeling of six Palestinian human rights NGOs as terrorist groups presented evidence on an unrelated organization.
According to Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, the 74-page document had previously been presented to European diplomats in May in an attempt to convince them to stop funding the organizations.
Sources who were shown it at the time said it did not convince them.
According to sources, Haaretz said, additional evidence was presented to the U.S. State Department and other officials with higher security clearances.
Israeli War Ministry on 19 October 2021 issued a military order declaring six Palestinian civil society organizations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to be “terrorist organizations.”
The Israeli War Minister office claimed that the six groups were “part of a network of organisations operating undercover in the international arena” on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist-Leninist Palestinian resistance group, which was listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation in 1997 by the US State Department.
The groups are Addameer, al-Haq, Defense for Children Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, Bisan Center for Research and Development and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees.
The designation, made pursuant to a 2016 Israeli statute, effectively outlaws the activities of these civil society groups.
It authorizes Israeli occupation authorities to close their offices, seize their assets and arrest and jail their staff members, and it prohibits funding or even publicly expressing support for their activities.
The US State Department said that it would seek clarification from Israel after it declared the six Palestinian groups as terrorist organisations, noting that Washington was not warned of the move.
“We’ll be engaging our Israelis partners for more information regarding the basis for these designations,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said during a press briefing with reporters.
“The Israeli government did not give us advance warning.”
Later, the representative from the Shin Bet headed to the United States to justify the six groups being outlawed.
Haaretz said that the document presented to the US Congress was based on interrogations of two employees of the Health Work Committees (HWC), a Palestinian NGO that Israel shut down on the grounds that it had alleged links to the PFLP.
The two accounts were extracted under duress during a lengthy interrogation in which the HWC employees were sometimes banned from seeing their lawyers. The two employees were sacked in 2019 following accusations of misappropriating the organisation’s funds.
The Shin Bet’s document quotes one of them linking PFLP to Addameer, Al-Haq, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, the Bisan Centre for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and Defence for Children International – Palestine.
“The institutions belonging to the Popular Front are related to one another and are the organisations’ lifeblood economically and organisationally. In other words, laundering money and funding the operations of the Popular Front,” Haaretz reported, citing the document.
Some Israeli analysts concluded the Shin Bet’s document does not offer concrete proof that the six human rights NGOs were used as a front for the PFLP.
Israel’s decision sparked a swift backlash around the globe, with the EU, US Jewish NGOs, progressive Democrats, and international human rights organizations expressing criticism.