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Israel’s covert terror campaign against human rights groups says a lot about the regime

Israeli soldiers monitor a demonstration by Palestinians in Bethlehem, West Bank on 12 June 2012 [Najeh Hashlamoun/Apaimages]
Israeli soldiers monitor a demonstration by Palestinians in Bethlehem, West Bank on 12 June 2012 [Najeh Hashlamoun/Apaimages]

Last month, Israel’s ambassador to the UN Danny Danon made a disgusting and dangerous speech to the media outside the Security Council. In it, he continued a long-running campaign of incitement and hatred against human rights organisations whose work involves holding Israel to account for its violations of international laws and conventions, particularly Palestinian groups.

Danon slandered Al-Mezan and Al-Haq, two well-respected Palestinian human rights organisations, as “supporters of terrorism” and “inciters of violence”. This very deliberately-spoken lie was no less than an incitement to violence. In the context of Israel’s military dictatorship ruling over the lives of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, and its medieval siege ruling the lives of Palestinians in Gaza (as well as its frequent and murderous military incursions), the lie was potentially deadly. Palestinian human rights defenders in the West Bank can be detained and imprisoned without trial by Israel’s military regime at any time, as the cases of Issa Amro and Khalida Jarrar demonstrate.

On one level, this Israel campaign is nothing new. The Zionist state has a long record of the kidnap, arrest, torture and murder of Palestinians who resist its military occupation, even those who do so in entirely non-violent ways. However, over the past few years Israel’s campaign specifically against Palestinian human rights groups has escalated.

Israel now has an entire government department dedicated to combating Palestine solidarity efforts, which are slandered as “delegitimisation” of the state. This Ministry of Strategic Affairs, it was revealed in the Israeli media last year, is engaged in “black-ops” against Palestine solidarity groups and human rights defenders. These include stalking, harassment and death threats against civilians.

Read: 10 Years of the Israeli siege on Gaza

Not-so-coincidentally, Al Mezan and Al-Haq last year reported that they have been the victims of a covert campaign of death threats, cyber-attacks, smears and defamation by anonymous individuals. In the case of Al-Haq, this manifested itself in a disgusting campaign of death threats against one of its lawyers, Nada Kiswanson, and her family. She received “intimidating phone calls, emails and a bouquet of flowers with an ominous message, threatening the lives of her and her family.”

Kiswanson was targeted for her legal efforts to hold Israel accountable at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. The death threats were serious enough for the Dutch police to launch an investigation.

In Al-Mezan’s case, the human rights group has been targeted since late 2015 by “a protracted campaign” of “suspicious email messages, Facebook posts [and] telephone calls to staff, donors and friends.” These have included “threats and false allegations about the integrity of Al-Mezan and our staff members.” In other words, this was a smear campaign, and last year it escalated into “direct death threats to staff and to their families.”

Until August 2016, when Israel began to target the organisation with death threats, Al-Mezan says that it chose to “deal cautiously and privately with these attacks” but that the potentially deadly escalation of the campaign persuaded officials to go public.

Read: The refugees’ return to Palestine is a must

This suggests that the scale of Israel’s covert terror campaign against Palestinian human rights groups is probably bigger than we know or think. Are other such organisations being intimidated into silence in the same way? What we actually know about could well be the tip of the iceberg.

Danon’s comments defaming the two groups at the UN are thus a clear continuation of Israel’s covert terror campaign. His disgusting incitement against organisations defending international human rights was a clear attempt to tar them with the brush of “terrorist supporters” so as to free Israel up to engage in ever more brutal acts against Palestinians and those trying to protect them.

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If the “international community” continues to give Israel carte blanche to carry on with this shameful behaviour, we can expect it to take ever more extreme measures against law-abiding organisations and their staff. That’s why it was so refreshing to see the France-based human rights federation FIDH issue a strong condemnation of Danon’s incitement earlier this month.

FIDH wrote to the UN Secretary General saying that it was shocked by the Israeli ambassador’s “smear campaigns” targeting “human rights defenders and organisations that are internationally renowned for their promotion of human rights and international law. We are equally shocked that such baseless attacks are made at a UN platform, and directed at human rights defenders invited by the UN.”

In its open letter, FIDH also called for the Secretary General to “protect all human rights defenders working on issues related to Palestine and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.” It called upon António Guterres to voice his public support for Al-Mezan and Al-Haq.

It is long overdue for Israel to be held accountable for its crimes and contempt for international laws and conventions. That Israel considers the work of human rights lawyers and defenders to be such an “existential threat” says a lot about the nature of the regime in Tel Aviv.

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