The UK Government has offered no criticism of the Israeli Government’s widely-condemned designation of six respected Palestinian human rights organisations as “terrorist” despite warnings that it could lead to the arrest and imprisonment of staff, the seizure of funds and the closure of offices.
For more than a month Foreign Office ministers would only say they were speaking to their friends and colleagues in the Israeli Government about the reasons for the designation and examining a 74-page report from the Israeli security service Shin Bet.
Silencing peaceful defence
Finally in the Commons last Tuesday (November 26th) junior Foreign Office minister, Amanda Milling, answered a question from a Labour MP by saying that she considered the designation to be “a matter for the Government of Israel”.
Marsha de Cordova MP accused the Government of “a clear attempt to silence the peaceful defence of Palestinian rights” and urged the minister to put pressure on the |sraeli government to revoke the designation.
SNP foreign affairs spokesman Alyn Smith (left) said the Minister’s answer was “entirely inadequate and wholly unconvincing” and pointed out that she had praised the role of human rights organisations in other countries, but when it came to Palestinian NGOs she seemed to wash her hands of it.
The six organisations, focusing on women, children, prisons, law, research and agriculture workers, have often been funded by European governments and are frequently consulted by the United Nations and EU countries, including the UK, on human rights abuses by the Israeli occupation forces in Palestine.
They were defended by leading human rights groups Amnesty and Human Rights Watch who said: “This appalling and unjust decision is an attack by the Israeli government on the international human rights movement.”
The Israel human rights group B’Tselem said it was “an act characteristic of totalitarian regimes, with the clear purpose of shutting down these organisations”.
The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on human rights in Palestine, Michael Lynk, said it was “a frontal attack on the Palestinian human rights movement, and on human rights everywhere”.
The Palestinian Authority said it was “a strategic assault on Palestinian civil society and the Palestinian people’s fundamental right to oppose Israel’s illegal occupation and expose its continuing crimes.”
Indeed Amanda Milling, standing in for the absent Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, said the Government will continue to work with them. “We continue engagement with a number of these organisations on human rights issues and respect the role of civil society organisations in upholding human rights and democracy.”
But being branded as “terrorist” organisations is likely to have serious consequences for the six. Even if they are not arrested and their offices are not closed, they may lose their funding from some European governments. Indeed if the Israeli government refuses to allow ICC investigators into the West Bank and Gaza, as expected, the ICC may well rely on expert help and evidence presented by the very same six Palestininian human rights organisations. Some observers see the designation as an attempt to discredit the six in advance of the ICC inquiry.
As it appeared in Hansard
Marsha De Cordova (Battersea) (Lab): What discussions she has had with her counterpart in the Government of Israel on the designation of certain Palestinian civil society organisations as terrorist groups.
Foreign Office minister Amanda Milling: The decision by the Israeli authorities to designate six Palestinian NGOs, and the evidence that forms the basis of those designations, is a matter for the Government of Israel. The UK maintains its own criteria for designation. We continue engagement with a number of those organisations on human rights issues and respect the role that NGOs and civil society organisations play in upholding human rights and democracy.
Marsha De Cordova: It has been more than five weeks since Israel designated six well-known and respected Palestinian NGOs and human rights organisations, and there is still no credible evidence to justify it. The EU has said that it has received no new evidence and no convincing answers to its queries. Does the Minister share my concern that the designation of these NGOs is a clear attempt to silence the peaceful defence of Palestinian rights, and will she call on the Israeli Government to immediately revoke the designation?
Amanda Milling: As I set out, the decision to designate these six Palestinian NGOs is a matter for the Government of Israel. The UK maintains its own criteria for designation. We continue engagement with a number of these organisations on human rights issues and respect the le of civil society organisations in upholding human rights and democracy. As I say, it is a matter for the Government of Israel, but we have our own position.