Israeli attorney Eitan Mack issued an open letter Saturday stating that a criminal investigation should be opened against Israeli War Minister Benny Gantz and his decision last month to label six Palestinian human rights groups as ‘terrorist organizations’.
The letter was addressed to Israeli Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, and began, “We ask that you open a criminal investigation against Minister Gantz for falsely declaring that six Palestinian human rights groups are terror organizations”. The letter asked that the Israeli Attorney-General freeze the declaration and stop the investigations into the Palestinian human rights organizations.
Eitan Mack is the lawyer for the Israeli-Palestinian joint peace initiative known as Combatants for Peace. The group aims to work toward peace with justice by exposing the reality of the Israeli occupation through the stories of ex-combatants.
In his letter to the attorney general, Mack referenced Section 281 of the Israeli penal code. That section allows for a four-year prison sentence to be imposed on someone who deliberately provides false information that leads to the deprivation of rights.
Mack pointed out that Gantz’s action has affected the freedom of movement and expression of those working in the organisations in question, and has also affected their freedom of occupation and association.
Mack also suggested that Gantz had targeted these six Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) simply because they have been critical of Israel and provided evidence against the Israeli government to the International Criminal Court. The organizations have also worked with and for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
The 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 the 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.
On November 7, the Israeli forces announced that the War Ministry’s designation had been implemented after occupied West Bank Army Chief Yehuda Fox signed an order declaring the six groups “illegal” claiming they were part of the PFLP and “endanger the State of Israel”.
According to the Quds News Network, 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.
Later, a representative from Israel’s internal intelligence agency, Shin Bet, was tasked with briefing the U.S. Congress headed to the United States to justify the six groups being outlawed.
The Israeli news agency Haaretz said the representative presented evidence on an unrelated organization. According to the Israeli newspaper, 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.
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.
The UN Security Council held a closed-door meeting on Monday to consider the matter, following which France, Estonia, Norway, Ireland and Albania called on Israel to provide evidence for Gantz’s allegations.
At the end of October, independent UN human rights experts called the initial decision “a frontal attack on the Palestinian human rights movement, and on human rights everywhere.”