Written by: Julian Cooper
On October 22nd, Israel’s Justice Ministry outlawed six human rights organizations by declaring them to be affiliates of “terrorism.” Among these six organizations was a relief group for Palestinian children, a legal support group for Palestinian prisoners and a women’s rights group. The other three organizations, all based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, were Al-Haq, the Bisan Center for Research and Development and the Palestinian Union of Agricultural Work Committees.
While the Biden Administration expressed surprise over the ban, anyone who has paid attention to Israel’s persecution of human rights watchdogs in the past should not be taken off guard by the exilement of these organizations. Over the summer, Israeli military and paramilitary forces illegally raided the headquarters of two of the six banned organizations. Early one morning in July, Israeli border police broke into the Ramallah headquarters of the Palestinian chapter of Defence for Children International (DCI). DCI alleges that military personnel stole eight computers as well as files on Palestinian child prisoners.
Defence for Children International is a humanitarian NGO with chapters in five continents. When announcing their ban, the Israeli Justice Ministry alleged DCI-Palestine was affiliated with and funded by Palestinian terrorists when in reality, they are funded and overseen by well-established groups such as the European Union, UNICEF and the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat. By conducting these illegal raids, Israel is using their paramilitary forces to prevent any form of international humanitarian aid from reaching Palestinians. Specifically, aid that comes from sources as reputable as the European Union and is directed to fund initiatives that will protect the lives of children. Israel’s policies to isolate Palestine from the international community have been characterized as turning Palestine into an “open-air prison.” In the open-air prison, Palestinians starve, lose their homes and their lives to the occupational forces while Israel prevents the international community from allowing any mercy.
Israel’s persecution of these six humanitarian organizations not only violates Palestinians’ rights to safety and self-determination, but it is also a direct affront to UN human rights operations in the region. Two of the targeted groups, Al-Haq and the Defence of Children International, have “consultative status” with the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council. The practice of keeping a roster of NGO consultants is outlined in Article 71 of the UN Charter. These consulting NGOs help the UN “monitor and implement international agreements,” “serve as an early warning agent” of human rights abuses and “play a major role in advancing United Nations goals and objectives,” according to an ECOSOC document on the matter. Additionally, in Human Rights Watch’s recent announcement condemning the ban, the organization claimed that they and Amnesty International both “worked closely with many of the groups” in the past. By outlawing these six organizations, Israel is outlawing the international community’s witnesses to the racist apartheid regime that occupies Palestine. The Israeli government is deliberately making it illegal for international authorities to be notified of human rights abuses in Palestine.
On October 25th, the United Nations issued a statement fiercely condemning the ban. “The Israeli military has frequently targeted human rights defenders in recent years, as its occupation has deepened, its defiance of international law has continued and its record of human rights violations has worsened,” ruled a board of experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council.
This condemnation is a truly ill omen for Israel, which relies heavily on UN institutions, particularly the UN Security Council, to maintain their campaigns of mass murder of Palestinians. Last May, as Israeli bombs killed over 240 Palestinians, including at least 66 children, the United Nations Security Council, made up of the world’s foremost military powers, continually called for a ceasefire in Gaza. Only the United States, holding veto power on the council, blocked the ceasefire order from passing. Thanks to the bureaucratic politics of the UN, Israel is spared some of the international community’s scrutiny. But condemnations like the one issued on October 25th may suggest that a shift is taking place in the UN’s approach to Israeli abuses.
In addition to the UN’s condemnation, some United States politicians are trying for their own resolution to condemn the ban. Representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota and nine progressive cosponsors introduced a resolution to the House of Representatives that would denounce Israel’s ban. McCollum has historically advocated for Palestinian citizens’ safety. Earlier this year, she introduced a bill that would prohibit any US military aid from being used to harm or imprison Palestinian children.
Taking a close look at the work undertaken by the six banned organizations in recent months, it becomes clear why Israel may have wanted to outlaw them. Defence for Children International, acting as a consultative agency for the UN, has been urging the UN for years to investigate Israeli war crimes. For example, in 2011, DCI-Palestine wrote an open letter urging the UN to recognize the findings of what is colloquially known as the “Goldstone Report.”
The Goldstone Report, formally titled “Human Rights in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories,” was an investigation conducted by the United Nations Human Rights Council and General Assembly into the Gaza War of 2008 and 2009. To date, the report remains one of the most comprehensive and detailed accounts of Israeli war crimes. The report gets its name from Richard Goldstone, the man who spearheaded the investigation. Goldstone is a South African jurist who became known for his work in the legal battles against South African racial apartheid. He later went on to lead international courts in their investigations into human rights abuses in Rwanda and Yugoslavia and was appointed to a high court position in South Africa by Nelson Mandela. Israel refused to cooperate with Goldstone’s investigation.
The Goldstone Report investigated events in the Gaza War such as Israel’s mortar shelling of a school where civilians were sheltering, a bombing that killed 21 civilian members of the al-Samouni family, and the bombing of a mosque while Palestinians gathered to pray.
It was a major point of DCI-Palestine’s work to ensure that the Goldstone report would not be forgotten. And this is only one example of DCI-Palestine’s advocacy; in recent years they have urged Israel to meaningfully investigate child deaths in Gaza. Israel outlawing DCI-Palestine’s work in 2021 is a continuation of their policy to not cooperate with the UN’s Goldstone Report. By banning organizations like DCI-Palestine and ignoring fact-finding missions like the Goldstone Report, Israel is systematically preventing evidence of war crimes from leaving Palestine and reaching the offices of human rights watchdogs.
The United Nations declared Israel’s ban on these six organizations to be a “frontal attack” on “human rights everywhere.” But this is just the latest example of Israel’s policy of the “open-air prison,” isolating Palestinians from international support and leaving them to suffer alone to perennial bombings and a blockade on essential resources. Israeli politicians and military elites will not have the international community bear witness to their regime of apartheid and murder because they are aware that it is wrong and it may provoke rebukes by international organizations. As the UN condemnation shows, a change in global policy may be coming.