25 October 2021
UK Government must give concrete support for Palestinian civil society - Time for the UK government to defend Palestinian human rights
Caabu condemns the ongoing Israeli government attacks on Palestinian civil society. This culminated in the listing and banning of six leading Palestinian NGOs on 22 October 2021, including human rights groups, as ‘terrorist organisations’.
Israel has yet to provide any evidence to substantiate its claims. The Israeli listing and banning of these organisations is based on confidential reports. If there was evidence against any specific Palestinians working in these groups, Israeli forces would have no doubt arrested them.
The UK government should pledge and demonstrate concrete support for Palestinian civil society in a vicious scenario of shrinking space in which they operate. They suffer from sustained and systemic attacks from Israeli authorities. Such a move is designed to silence those who speak out against illegal Israeli policies.
The UK has a duty to ensure that Palestinian NGOs can operate freely in a climate of Israeli military occupation and increasing Palestinian Authority authoritarianism. The lived realities of Palestinians living under a brutal occupation are worsening, not least as many Palestinians have been subjected to increasing Israeli settler violence and terror. Such settler attacks are carried out with impunity.
The UK rightly pledges vital support to human rights defenders globally. This should be no different for Palestinians. The work of these organisations includes advocating for human rights, and providing essential health care, which should be a fundamental part of UK foreign and development policy. They are: Al-Haq, a human rights group founded in 1979, Addameer, Defence for Children International – Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.
Caabu is proud to have worked with many of these organisations, and introduced them to British parliamentarians, including on delegations and in briefings. They remain an essential and important resource to our political advocacy work as they are to governments and parliamentarians from across Europe.
The safety of our colleagues working in such situations is paramount. Therefore it is very alarming that under Israeli law, Israeli authorities can close their offices, seize their assets and arrest and jail their staff members, and prohibit funding or even publicly expressing support for their activities.
Caabu urges the British Consul General in Jerusalem to meet with these organisations and their representatives.
Caabu welcomes and supports the calls of solidarity from international and UK NGOs and human rights groups, such as the joint Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch statement, Christian Aid and Oxfam, and the statement from 22 Israeli civil society and human rights groups, including B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Peace Now and Yesh Din, which stated:
“Documentation, advocacy, and legal aid are fundamental activities for the protection of human rights worldwide. Criminalizing such work is an act of cowardice, characteristic of repressive authoritarian regimes.”
Co-resistance is a fundamental component of the ongoing struggle for Palestinian rights. The UK government should make every effort to defend Palestinian civil society from unsubstantiated attacks.
On 26 October 2021, Caabu board member Alistair Carmichael MP raised the designation of six Palestinian NGOs as "terrorist groups", including human rights groups, at Foreign and Development Questions in the House of Commons. He condemned Israel's repressive treatment of Palestinian NGOs.
He asked: What evidence have the Government of Israel given the Foreign Secretary or her Department to justify the designation of six Palestinian human rights organisations as terrorist organisations? Does she agree with me—and, indeed, with the assessment of B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organisation—that this is not worthy of a democracy, and is more what we expect from repressive regimes? The Foreign and Development Office Minister responsible for the Middle East, James Cleverly MP responded: The UK’s relationship with Israel is strong and important, and the strength of that relationship allows us to raise sensitive issues such as this. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will be speaking to our friends and colleagues in the Israeli Government about the reasons why they felt that they needed to designate those organisations.