22 US House Members Urge Biden to Reject Israeli Criminalization of Palestinian Civil Society

22 US House Members Urge Biden to Reject Israeli Criminalization of Palestinian Civil Society

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and US President Joe Biden shake hands after a statement, in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank July 15, 2022 (Photo: REUTERS)

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and 21 other members of Congress sent a letter to Biden administration officials on Monday demanding action on behalf of six prominent Palestinian human rights organizations designated as “terrorist” groups by Israeli authorities.

Defense for Children International (DCI) said in a press release that the six prominent Palestinian human rights and civil society organizations targeted by the designations are Addameer, Al-Haq, Defense for Children International – Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees. The groups work directly with Palestinian women and girls, children, peasant families, prisoners, and civil society activists, providing direct services and monitoring and exposing human rights abuses.

The letter, addressed to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, calls on the Biden administration to publicly reject the Israeli designation, urge the Israeli government to reverse its decision, and confirm a date for an inter-agency briefing and provide a report to Congress within 30 days.

“Our human rights documentation and evidence-based advocacy exposing Israeli forces’ grave violations against Palestinian children have made us a target of the Israeli government for years,” said Khaled Quzmar, General Director at DCIP. “But we will not back down. We are grateful for Congresswoman Pressley’s leadership in rejecting the Israeli designation and urging the Biden administration to do the same and take action for Palestinian human rights.”

The letter notes the Israeli government has failed to produce sufficient evidence linking the human rights organizations to terror activity, indicating this decision is intended to repress Palestinian civil society and lawful human rights work in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli Minister of Defense, Benny Gantz, designated the six Palestinian human rights and civil society groups as “terrorist organizations” on October 19, 2021, pursuant to a 2016 Israeli law, a designation that effectively criminalizes the activities of these organizations and authorizes Israeli authorities to close their offices, seize their assets, and arrest and jail their staff members.

More than 140 organizations supported the letter, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA, J Street, AJP Action, Americans for Peace Now, Oxfam America, Center for Constitutional Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace Action, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, CODEPINK, Presbyterian Church (USA), T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), Win Without War, Center for Jewish Nonviolence, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, ActionAid USA, Norwegian Refugee Council, , Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), and dozens of other national and international groups.

Last week, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden released a joint statement on the Israeli designations stating that “no substantial information was received from Israel that would justify reviewing our policy towards the six Palestinian NGOs on the basis of the Israeli decision to designate these NGOs as 'terrorist organizations.” The nine countries declared, “in the absence of such evidence, we will continue our cooperation and strong support for the civil society in the oPT.”

Government and United Nations officials, including human rights experts, have condemned the designation and called upon Israeli authorities to reverse the designation immediately and cease efforts to criminalize human rights work. Many solidarity statements have been issued by trade unions, academics, editorial boards, human rights and development organizations, celebrities and artists, and individuals.

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