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Issam Younis, left, director of Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, and Shawan Jabarin, director of Al-Haq, both head human rights groups targeted by Israeli government smears.Pierre AlbouyReuters
Adri Nieuwhof- 11 July 2017
Israel’s UN ambassador Danny Danon has publicly attacked Palestinian human rights organizations Al-Haq and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, accusing them of supporting terrorism and inciting violence.
An international federation of 184 human rights organizations described his “slandering statements” as “baseless attacks” and urged UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to publicly support the two organizations.
Danon’s attack appears part of an Israeli policy to curtail foreign funding of human rights organizations working to expose human rights violations against Palestinians.
Israel is warning foreign governments “that no money should go to terrorism, incitement, or to the glorification of violence,” foreign ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon recently told media outlet Middle East Eye.
Smearing human rights organizations as terrorist sympathizers is one way to deter foreign donors.
Danon made his remarks at a press conference on 29 June where he was criticizing the UN for funding Al-Haq and Al Mezan.
“We expect more from the UN,” he said in reply to a question about a UN committee meeting to mark Israel’s 50 years of occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to which representatives of the two human rights organizations were invited. “We expect the UN to respect its core values.”
Instead, he said, the UN is funding Al Mezan and Al-Haq that, he charged, have links with Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, PFLP, which like most Palestinian parties Israel considers terrorist organizations.
“They are flying supporters of terrorists, they are sitting in this building, and incite against Israel. This is unacceptable,” said Danon
Trumped up accusationsDanon in part based his claims on the work of the right-wing Israeli group NGO Monitor which habitually smears international organizations.
NGO Monitor “works closely” with the Israeli foreign ministry, Nahshon told Middle East Eye earlier this month. “There is a level of coordination and we share information,” he said.
Danon described Al-Haq head Shawan Jabarin as someone who had been jailed for his “PFLP role,” a charge NGO Monitor has persistently leveled at Jabarin.
NGO Monitor refers to an Israeli high court ruling to substantiate the claim against Jabarin.
But the ruling was based on secret evidence presented in a hearing behind closed doors.
Jabarin denies any links with the PFLP.
“If I am a member of the PFLP, then why don’t they bring me to trial?” Jabarin told Middle East Eye.
Danon also accused Al Mezan of having links with Hamas without clarifying the character of the alleged contacts.
Israel made similar accusations, apparently also originating with NGO Monitor, a few years ago against the London-based group Palestinian Return Centre. But the UK government said Israel did not provide it with any evidence to back up its claims.
Al Mezan is based in Gaza City and documents human rights violations in the Gaza Strip. Its fieldworkers played a crucial role in collecting information during and after Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza that killed more than 2,200 people including 550 children and decimated dozens of families.
Israel routinely denies international observers, including those from Amnesty International as well as the UN’s Human Rights Council, access to Gaza.
Since 2008, moreover, Human Rights Watch has only once been allowed to bring staff into Gaza.
Al Mezan is often critical of Gaza’s authorities, taking the coastal strip’s Hamas rulers to task for the juvenile justice system, the death penalty and military-style court processes.
Protecting human rights defendersSuch work is lost on NGO Monitor, which has the single mission to assail those who lay bare Israeli abuses. The organization is “the main tool in the hand of the Israeli officials and the foreign ministry,” Jabarin told The Electronic Intifada last month.
He suggested that organizations, lawmakers and governments should not accept the information of NGO Monitor and other Israel lobby groups at face value. They should instead look at the aim behind these groups, Jabarin told The Electronic Intifada.
He added: “Do they believe in human rights? Do they believe in justice? Do they believe in accountability? Do they really believe in transparency? Are their budgets and resources published on their website? Who is behind them, who is the director of the organization? What is his history, background? Is the main purpose to strengthen the culture of equality and rule of law?”
In response to Danon’s attack, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights
Defenders called on UN Secretary-General Guterres to publicly voice support for Al-Haq, Al Mezan, Jabarin and all human rights defenders in Palestine.
The Observatory – created by the International Federation for Human Rights, FIDH, and the World Organization Against Torture – also urged Guterres in an open letter 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.”
Over the past years, Al-Haq and Al Mezan have had staff members receive death threats, the Observatory notes in its letter.
They have also been targets of wider efforts to discredit and destabilize the organizations using “the hacking of emails, intimidating phone calls to staff and efforts to alarm donors.” These “acts of intimidation” persist.
Jabarin challenged parliamentarians and donors around the world to set up unbiased fact-finding missions to Palestine and “not let anyone interfere in your country.”
“They should not accept the Israeli narrative,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “In the end you are speaking about a state behind this, big resources, very organized campaigners behind this.”