RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Israel raided the offices of several Palestinian advocacy groups it had previously designated as terrorist organizations, sealing entrance doors and leaving notices declaring them closed, the groups said Thursday.
With the raids, Israel broadened its campaign against the civil society groups, which it has outlawed over claims that they have ties to militant groups, a charge they deny. Israel has provided little evidence to back up the accusations. The European Union has rejected Israel’s charge s against the groups, citing a lack of evidence.
Israel has claimed some of these groups had ties to the militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a secular, left-wing movement with a political party as well as an armed wing that has carried out deadly attacks against Israelis. Israel outlawed the groups last year over the claim.
Shawan Jabarin, director of al-Haq, one of the targeted groups, confirmed that forces raided the office. He said his staffers are still examining whether any documents were confiscated.
Israeli troops “came, blew up the door, got inside, and messed with the files,” he told The Associated Press. They then sealed the entrance to the office, he said.
Rights defenders have described Israel’s moves against the groups as part of a decades-long crackdown on political activists in the occupied territories. In July, nine EU member states said Israel hasn’t backed up it’s allegations and that they will continue working with the targeted groups.
“These accusations are not new and Israel failed to convince even its friends,” Jabarin said.
The Israeli military said it closed seven institutions and seized their property in Thursday’s raid. The military did not immediately claim the discrepancy in the numbers, between groups designated and groups raided.
On Wednesday, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s office reiterated its claim that the groups “operate under the guise of performing humanitarian activities to further the goals of the PFLP terrorist organization, to strengthen the organization and to recruit operatives.”
Most of the targeted organizations document alleged human rights violations by Israel as well as the Palestinian Authority, both of which routinely detain Palestinian activists.
The groups reportedly raided include al-Haq, a veteran, internationally respected Palestinian rights group; Addameer, which advocates for Palestinian prisoners; the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees; the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and the Bisan Center for Research and Development.
Jabarin said “neighbors and strangers” who were nearby during Thursday’s raid had opened the office in Ramallah as soon as the Israeli forces left, and that al-Haq’s staff were inside and resuming their work.
“We don’t take permission from any Israeli military or political official. We are proceeding, encouraged by our belief in accountability and the international law,” he said.
Thursday’s raids come seven months after Israel outlawed Al-Haq, Addameer, Bisan and others.
The Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank described the closure of the organizations as a “dangerous escalation and an attempt to silence the voice of truth and justice.” Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Palestinian official, said the PA will appeal to the international community to reopen the institutions.
Israel and Western countries consider the PFLP a terrorist organization.
A Defense Ministry statement last year said some of the outlawed groups are “controlled by senior leaders” of the PFLP and employ its members, including some who have “participated in terror activity.”
It said the groups serve as a “central source” of financing for the PFLP and had received “large sums of money from European countries and international organizations,” without elaborating.
Israel has long accused human rights groups and international bodies of being biased against it and of singling it out while ignoring graver violations by other countries.
Also Thursday, the Israeli military said Palestinian gunmen fired at soldiers during an army operation in the West Bank city of Nablus and the soldiers returned fire. The army was referring to an incident in the early hours in which an 18-year-old Palestinian, Waseem Khalifa, was killed.
Israel has carried out near-daily arrest raids in the West Bank aimed at what it says are militant networks following a string of deadly attacks inside Israel in the spring. The raids often set off confrontations with stone-throwing Palestinians or exchanges of gunfire with militants.
Akram reported from Gaza City.