‘Not going anywhere’: The Palestinian NGOs shut down by Israel

Israel shut down seven Palestinian NGOs on Thursday, but they’ve defiantly said they will continue their operations.

Ramallah, occupied West Bank – For the seven Palestinian civil society and human rights organisations forcibly shut by Israeli raids on Thursday, the reasons are quite clear.

According to Mazen Rantisi, head of the board of directors of the Health Work Committees, (HWC), which runs hospitals and clinics, and was among the groups raided, the closures were aimed at “destroying Palestinian society”.

During the dawn military raids, which took place in Ramallah, offices were ransacked and equipment confiscated, with doors welded shut and a military order declaring the organisations “unlawful” posted on them.

Six of the organisations raided had been criminalised as “terrorist” organisations in October 2021 by Israel, which claimed they were affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Since 1967, Israel has banned more than 400 local and international organisations, including all major Palestinian political parties. Fatah, which governs the Palestinian Authority, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which Israel itself signed the 1993 Oslo Accords with, are among them.

The organisations targeted on Thursday work in fields such as human rights, prisoner support, children’s rights, and healthcare. Here’s a deeper look at the groups, and their response to the attempts to stop their work.

Addameer

  • Established in 1991, Addameer provides free legal representation to Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli and Palestinian Authority (PA) prisons, and offers guidance to hundreds of Palestinian detainees and their families each year.
  • Monitors the living conditions of detainees through regular prison visits and publishes research and advocacy material.
  • “Following the baseless criminalization of our organizations last year, the international community failed to hold Israel accountable. This has encouraged, if not provoked, today’s attacks,” Addameer said in a Twitter statement on Thursday. “Our partners & funders know well the integrity of our work. Most importantly, we work for and with the support of our communities,” Addameer added.

Al-Haq

  • Founded in 1979, Al-Haq is one of the leading Palestinian human rights organisations operating in the Palestinian territories illegally occupied by Israel in 1967.
  • Al-Haq works with local and international rights groups in Palestine and pushes for Israeli accountability at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
  • Al-Haq said the closures are the “latest in a pattern of repressive attacks by Israel, targeting Palestinian civil society organisations who advocate for human rights and international rule of law, and call for an end to Israel’s aggressive 74-year colonial and apartheid regime, that denies the collective right to self-determination of the Palestinian people and the rights of refugees to return”.

Defense for Children International – Palestine

  • The Geneva-based organisation’s Palestine chapter is a children’s rights group that provides free legal aid to Palestinian children detained and prosecuted in the Israeli juvenile military court system.
  • The group has developed a reputation for successfully limiting the time children spend in prison, and publishes key reports and information on the issue of child prisoners.
  • DCI-Palestine shared on Twitter surveillance camera footage of the moment Israeli forces raided their offices and confiscated materials.
  • The group said that Israel had called its members “terrorists” for “protecting and defending Palestinian children’s rights”. “This work isn’t getting easier – but we aren’t going anywhere,” DCI-Palestine added.

Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC)

  • The UAWC was established in 1986 as a response to the difficult sociopolitical conditions facing Palestinian farmers due to the Israeli occupation’s restrictions on access to natural resources.
  • It provides hands-on aid to Palestinians, including by rehabilitating land at risk of confiscation and helping tens of thousands of farmers in Area C – the more than 60 percent of the occupied West Bank under direct Israeli military control, and where all illegal Israeli settlements and settlement infrastructure are located.
  • In a Twitter statement, the UAWC said it “demands the international community to take serious action against the absurd targeting of human rights organizations. Actions should go beyond statements!”

Health Work Committees (HWC)

  • A community healthcare organisation founded in 1985, the HWC runs two Palestinian hospitals in the occupied West Bank as well as dozens of clinics.
  • The group says it aims to build sustainable health infrastructure for all segments of society, particularly the poor and marginalised.
  • Though not one of the six organisations designated by Israel as a “terrorist” group last year, the HWC was nevertheless shut down with a military order banning its operation.
  • Mazen Rantisi, the head of the board of directors, told Al Jazeera on Thursday that the goal of the closures was to “put obstacles in the way of civil society so that it doesn’t develop, it is part of destroying Palestinian society”. Rantisi promised that the HWC would find a way to continue its work.

Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC)

  • Established in 1980, the UPWC works to “empower Palestinian women on all levels” and to contribute to the “Palestinian national struggle against the Israeli military’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories”.
  • In a statement, the group said Israel’s “barbaric behavior comes in an oppressive colonial context against the legitimate rights of Palestinian women and their natural right to defend their national, social, cultural, legal and political rights”.

Bisan Center for Research and Development

  • A civil society and rights organisation formed in 1989, which works with youth, labour workers, impoverished communities and women to achieve “socioeconomic rights in the context of national liberation”.
  • While Bisan did not issue their own independent statement, the group has continuously condemned Israel’s criminalisation of its work as “arbitrary and baseless”, called on states to pressure Israel to rescind the designation, and affirmed its commitment to continuing its work of “advocating and protecting the actualisation of the dignity and rights of the Palestinian people”.