Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Punishing the Messenger:
Israel's War on NGOs
Takes a Worrying Turn
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, August 30, 2016
“You deserve to see your loved ones suffer and die. But, maybe, you
would be hurt before them,” was part
of a threatening message received by a staff member at ‘Al-Mezan’, a
Gaza-based human rights group. The photo attached to the email was of the
exterior of the activist’s home. The gist of the message: ‘we are coming
‘Al-Mezan’, along with three other Palestinian rights
groups – ‘Al-Haq’, ‘Al Mezan’, ‘Aldameer’ and the Palestinian Center for
Human Rights – are actively
pushing a case against Israel in the International Criminal Court
(ICC) accusing it of war crimes in Palestine, particularly during the war
on Gaza in 2014.
In April 2015, the Palestinian Authority (PA)
had officially signed the
Rome Statute and, a few months later in November, the groups presented
a substantial amount of evidence of Israel’s suspected war crimes and
crimes against humanity.
But even before these dates, the war on
independent rights groups was already heating up. Restrictions on Israeli
NGOs, especially those that challenge the Israeli Occupation of Palestine,
are fairly recent. However, pressure, violence, restriction on movement,
raiding of offices and arrests, have been a fixture of Israeli policy
against Palestinian rights groups. The most recent episode is only one
“Since September 2015, several of the organizations
have faced ruthless smear and intimidation campaigns seeking to discredit
them and stoke insecurity among their staff,” Amjad
Iraqi wrote in Israel’s +972Mag. “The harassment culminated in death
threats made against two individuals: A senior Palestinian advocate with
‘Al-Mezan’ and Nada Kiswanson, a Palestinian-Swedish lawyer who is
Al-Haq’s representative in The Hague.”
Israel is, no doubt,
feeling embattled. Its carefully carved brand – that it is an oasis of
democracy in an arid authoritarian desert – is now full of holes. Its
occupation, wars and siege in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, and
the dissemination of images and information about such conduct throughout
the internet and social media platforms is making it impossible for Israel
to sustain its official hasbara. Thus, the angry backlash.
Israeli Knesset has been busy passing laws and proposing bills aimed at
restricting the work of its own rights groups, or any independent civil
society organization that seems, in any way, critical of the government
and sympathetic towards the Palestinians.
The ‘NGO Law’ is now
in effect. It forces NGOs to declare their sources of funding and punishes
those who refrain from doing so. It also levies heavy taxes on such funds,
even when declared. The
European Union, along with the United
States Government warned Israel against such laws, but to no avail.
The bill is written in too broad a terminology, thus making it possible
for the government to target such organizations without appearing
vindictive or politically-motivated.
“What is happening in Israel
now is fascism,” said David Tartakover, who was
quoted in the British Guardian newspaper. Tartakover, the artist who
designed the logo for the Israeli ‘Peace Now’ campaign in the late 1970’s
described ‘a slow creep of limitations’ that began in 1995 (following the
assassination of Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, at the hands of a Jewish
extremist), but one that accelerated in the last year.
example includes the “Loyalty in Culture Bill”, which sounds like,
according to Michael Griffiths, “something out of Nineteen Eighty-Four.”
But it is no fiction. This bill targets artists and authors, and withholds
funding from organizations that promote any material deemed objectionable
by Israel’s political establishment.
This led to the banning of
“Borderlife”, an Israeli
novel by Dorit Rabinyan, depicting a love story between a Palestinian
man and a Jewish woman. Israel’s Minister of Education, the hardliner,
Naftali Bannett, banned the novel on the pretext that it promotes
‘assimilation’ between the races.
With the ‘most
rightwing government’ in Israeli’s history now in charge, and an
equally hawkish parliament, the foray of contentious bills are likely to
However, while Israel’s own organizations, rights
groups and dissenting artists are targeted by bans, fines and withholding
of funds, Palestinians are threatened with much more severe consequences.
To appreciate this more, one ought to look at the language used
by a recent conference organized by Israeli newspaper, ‘Yediot Aharonot’.
According to investigative journalist, Richard Silverstein, the
conference, which mainly attacked the international Boycott, Divestment
and Sanctions movement (BDS) “has become a veritable carnival of hate.”
“Everyone from delusional Hollywood celebrities to cabinet ministers,
to the leader of the Opposition have pledged fealty to the cause,” he
Top officials included Intelligence Minister, Israel
Katz, who called for the “civil targeted killing” of BDS leaders like Omar
Barghouti. According to Silverstein, the phrase Katz used is “sikul ezrahi
memukad” which “derives from the euphemistic Hebrew phrase for the
targeted killing of a terrorist, which literally means ‘targeted
Working hand in hand with various western
governments, Israel’s official perception of the non-violent BDS movement
is reaching the point of treating the civil society movement as if a
criminal organization. BDS merely demands moral and legal accountably from
western governments and corporations that contribute in any way to
Israel’s violations of human rights and international law.
recent death threats against rights activists who are pressing for respect
of international law and for justice for thousands of Gazan civilians
killed during recent wars is a natural progression of Israel’s relentless
While restricting the work of independent rights groups
is quite common by Middle Eastern governments, Israel’s campaign is most
dangerous for it receives little media coverage and, at times, outright
support from the US and other western governments.
The latest of
these was the recently
passed legislation at the Democratic-led Legislature in the State of
New Jersey, which was signed by Governor, Chris Christie. New Jersey is
now the latest of US
states that outlawed BDS and vowed to punish any company that joins
the boycott of Israel campaign.
With little or no
accountability, Israel will continue with its fight targeting NGOs,
threatening activists and restricting the work of anyone that dares to be
“What is happening in Israel now is fascism,” said
Tartakover, and he is, of course, right.
- Dr Ramzy Baroud has
been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an
internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of
several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include
“Searching Jenin”, “The Second Palestinian Intifada” and his latest “My
Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story”. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.
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