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Op-Ed: Israel just declared our human rights work ‘terrorism.’ But it won’t silence us 

Palestinians gather with banners calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails
Palestinians gather at a demonstration calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, in the West Bank city of Hebron on Oct. 24.
(Mosab Shawer / AFP/Getty Images)

We work at Addameer, one of the biggest organizations providing direct support to Palestinian political prisoners. Recently, our workplace and five other leading Palestinian human rights organizations were designated as “terrorist” groups by Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Harassment of human rights advocates by the Israeli authorities is routine. But this latest move is a blanket attack that effectively outlaws our work; puts us at risk of arbitrary arrest and prosecution and our organizations at risk of forcible closure or defunding; and criminalizes public expressions of support for our work.

International human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have condemned this designation as “appalling and unjust.” Israeli human rights groups are standing with us. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has demanded that the designations be revoked immediately.

On a daily basis, we at Addameer give free legal support to Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, helping families to navigate a legal system that was built by Israel to facilitate the settler-colonial takeover of land. We conduct visits to hundreds of prisoners a year, documenting cases of torture, medical negligence and other forms of violence. We also fight for the rights of political prisoners on the international stage, filing urgent appeals, complaints and crucial reports to the United Nations.

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This summer, we advocated for the release of Amal Nakhleh, a 17-year-old Palestinian boy who was arrested by Israel without charge or trial despite a rare autoimmune disorder. We visited prisoners in solitary confinement in Israel’s infamous Naqab prison, who told us about the torture and inhumane living conditions they were subjected to. We visited hunger strikers protesting their arbitrary detention in hospital beds in the Ramleh prison clinic and submitted appeals to United Nations bodies to intervene. We have called on the International Criminal Court to investigate Israeli war crimes, and in Israeli military and civil courts, we have defended Palestinian parliamentarians, students, children, journalists, feminists, human rights defenders, academics and thousands of everyday people who are arbitrarily arrested every year. We also defend Palestinian political prisoners in jails run by the Palestinian Authority.

This is the vital work that Israel is trying to end. As Palestinians we can hardly be surprised that Israel is trying to silence us with the claim of “terrorism.” This red herring, with decades of anti-Arab racism behind it, is used against us every time we try to stand up for our rights under Israel’s prolonged military occupation, entrenched apartheid system and ongoing settler-colonialism.

Since Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank in 1967, the Defense Ministry has classified more than 400 Palestinian organizations as “hostile,” “unlawful,” or “terrorist.” This criminalization extends to all aspects of Palestinian civil society — from journalists and nongovernmental organizations to students and human rights defenders. Working with prisoners, we have seen intimately how any Palestinian can be criminalized and arrested. The low standard of evidence and the politicized context of Israeli military courts results in a conviction rate of over 99%, making it nearly impossible for Palestinians to challenge a charge against them. Israel’s 2016 counterterrorism law is now being used to expand the powers of Israeli authorities to criminalize legitimate social, humanitarian, political and charitable action by Palestinians.

The five other organizations targeted in Gantz’s declaration are the Palestine branch of Defense for Children International, Al-Haq, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, Bisan Center and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees. Like Addameer, they are well-known pillars of Palestinian civil society, providing essential services and doing legal, human rights, monitoring and advocacy work that Palestinians desperately need.

As workers in these organizations, we routinely face the risk of arrest, residency revocation, deportation and travel bans. The Israeli military raided Addameer’s offices in 2002, 2012 and most recently in September 2019, during which they ransacked our files and stole significant equipment and data, including five laptops. Many of our coworkers and board members have been arrested, often on administrative detention orders, which allow Israel to hold Palestinians without charge, trial or conviction, indefinitely.

We call on members of civil society across the globe to stand with us. Imagine if the young activists in your community were being targeted and arrested. Imagine if the nonprofits providing services to the most vulnerable among you were being outlawed and their staff punished. We are members of Palestinian civil society, but we are also members of the global community dedicated to social justice. We need the international community to demand that Israel rescind the terrorist designations immediately.

Rana is a programs manager at Addameer. Milena is an international advocacy officer at Addameer. They are withholding their last names because of risks to their safety.


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